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The Edge of the Precipice

The Edge of the Precipice

vhy Bead Literature in the Iigital Age
Edited by Paul Socken
HcGill-Queens Iniversity Press
Hontreal 8 Kingston London Ithaca
HcGill-Queens Iniversity Press .c.
1he End ol Beading ly Allerto Hanguel
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1he edge ol the precipice : why read literature in the digital age / edited ly
Paul Socken.
Includes lilliographical relerences and index.
Issued in print and electronic lormats.
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.. Literature and the Internet. .. Literature and technology. . Books and reading
Social aspects. . Books and reading 1echnological innovations. I. Socken, Paul,
.p, editor ol compilation
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Set in ../.. Filosoa with Avenir Rext Condensed
Book design and typesetting ly Garet Harkvoort, zijn digital
For my wife, Rochelle, and my children and grandchildren
Introduction: A Beturn to the Educated
Imagination Paul Socken
Technology, Science, and the Book
vhy I Bead War and Peace on a Kindle (and Bought
the Book vhen I vas Ione) Michael Austin .
Beading in a Iigital Age: Rotes on vhy the Rovel
and the Internet Are Opposites, and vhy the
Latter Both Indermines the Former and Hakes
It Hore Recessary Sven Birkerts .
Solitary Beading in an Age ol Compulsory
Sharing Drew Nelles .
Literature and the World (Part One)
Literature as \irtual Beality
Stephen Brockmann
Low Holire and Co. Lelped He Get
Hy Students Looked on Literature
Leonard Rosmarin .
viii | Contents
Physical and Philosophical Approaches
A vorld without Books Vincent Giroud p.
Language Speaks Is: Sophies 1ree and the Paradox ol Sell
Mark Kingwell .cp
Poetic Readings
1he End ol Beading Alberto Manguel ..p
Cold Leaven, Cold Comlort: Should ve Bead or 1each Literature
Row J. Hillis Miller .c
Fragments lrom an Entirely Suljective Story ol Beading
Lori Saint-Martin .6
A \ery Good Chance ol Getting Somewhere Else Katia Grubisic .6.
Literature and the World (Part Two)
1hinking Ieeply in Beading and vriting Keith Oatley .
Iont Panic: Beading Literature in the Iigital Age
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia .p.
vhy Bead against the Grain Conlessions ol an Addict
Gerhard van der Linde .c
Alout the Authors ..
Index ..p
The Edge of the Precipice
I had leen on the laculty ol the Iniversity ol vaterloo lor thirty-seven
years in the Iepartment ol French Studies when I retired in .c.c. Col-
leagues in various departments in my university and elsewhere had
leen saying that students lackground and alilities had leen changing
dramatically over the years and I experienced the phenomenon in my
Shortly lelore my retirement, I asked students how many read a
newspaper in print or online: hardly any. I asked how many read literary
texts, such as novels, poetry or short stories: very lew. I asked how many
read history or any other non-ction: again, lew. It lecame increas-
ingly apparent that some lundamental change was taking place. Perhaps
the change to a much vaunted visual society, a return to an oral culture
supplemented ly images on a screen, was well underway, as Harshall
HcLuhan had loreseen.
As a prolessor ol literature, I had to wonder what was leing lost in the
process. I developed my own response, which this essay represents, lut
decided also to seek the insights ol others a diverse group ol writers,
academics, and those in other elds. I was lortunate enough to receive
a lavouralle response lrom many. Included in this group are academics
lrom around the world, an editor and writer, a philosopher, a lilrarian
and lilrary curator, a psychologist, young voices, and those who have
worked in their elds lor many years. 1he present volume is the result
ol my enquiry.
A Return to the Educated Imagination
Paul Socken
4 | Introduction
I titled this collection The Edge of the Precipice lrom F. Scott Fitzger-
alds collection ol essays, The Crack-Up, pullished in .p: Iraw your
chair up close to the edge ol the precipice and I will tell you a story. vhy
the edge ol the precipice Engaging in literary creativity and communi-
cation is adventurous even risky and challenging. 1he leap ol the
imagination into unknown worlds is like sitting at the edge ol a preci-
pice, glimpsing new vistas while remaining precariously connected to
ones lamiliar surroundings. 1he acquired perspectives and views may
challenge the old, may translorm you, an exercise loth exhilarating and
I asked contrilutors to answer the question, vhy Bead Literature in
the Iigital Age ly locusing on reading as opposed to studying, litera-
ture as opposed to other lorms ol writing, and all ol this in the context
ol current electronic technologies. vhat precisely is it that reading lit-
erature even in our wired world ol social networking, llogging, tweet-
ing, Google, vikipedia and so on lrings us Low do we lenet in-
dividually and collectively lrom this now ancient activity Considering
the answer to my own question, I decided to look again at the ideas ol
Canadas lest-known literary critic, Rorthrop Frye. Le gave a series
ol talks in the early .p6cs as part ol csc Badios Hassey Lectures. Frye
titled the series The Educated Imagination, and it was pullished in look
lorm in .p6.
Although Frye was writing long lelore the advent ol per-
sonal computers, he understood the necessity ol delending literature
even then, as the value ol literature was already coming under attack
lrom people who wanted it to have immediate political relevance or who
criticized the humanities lor having little economic value. I can think
ol no more eloquent delence ol reading literature or perhaps I should
say, explanation ol the importance ol reading literature then or now.
An important point that Frye makes is that the literary writer isnt
giving inlormation hes trying to let something take on its own lorm
1hats why you cant produce literature voluntarily, in the way youd
write a letter or a report. 1hats also why its no use telling the poet that
he ought to write in a dierent way so you can understand him letter.
1he writer ol literature can only write what takes shape in his mind
(.). 1he literary enterprise is not one whose primary purpose is to
convey a set ol lacts or data. It is the product ol the writers imagination
and, as such, diers lrom other kinds ol writing. 1he jol ol the writer is
to put into words the thoughts and images that take shape in his or her
Paul Socken | 5
own mind, and the readers engagement with those words is the exciting
intellectual pursuit called reading.
Prolessors ol literature tell their students that the writers words
create a world the French call it a univers romanesque and that
they are invited to enter that world and to explore it lully. 1hat world is
dierent than their own and the readers must suspend disleliel, to
use Coleridges term, to experience it. 1he readers understanding will
expand and they will le enriched. 1hey are not olligated to like the work
in question, only to understand it lelore judging. It is the exploration ol
the writers imagined world ly the readers open mind that denes the
purpose ol literature.
Consider historical non-ction as a contrast. 1he historian says
such and such a lattle took place in a particular year and is judged ly
the accuracy ol his statement. 1he poets jol, Frye says, is not to tell
you what happened, lut what happens: not what did take place, lut the
kind ol thing that always does take place. Le gives you the typical, recur-
ring, or what Aristotle calls universal event. ou wouldnt go to Hacleth
to learn alout the history ol Scotland you go to it to learn what a man
leels like alter hes gained a kingdom and lost his soul (.). Likewise,
you go to Charles Iickenss novel David Coppereld to learn what it leels
like to le a child, orphaned and deprived ol love, who nds himsell and
gains wisdom in a harsh world. As Frye points out, Iickens didnt know
Hicawler or mayle even anyone like him, lut you sense that theres
something ol Hicawler in everyone. 1o suggest that literature is unique
is not to claim that history or any other discipline is inlerior. It is merely
to postulate that literatures hold on the imagination ol the reader is
powerlul, creative, engaging and mind-expanding. 1his proud claim is
critically important.
As civilisation develops, says Frye, we lecome more preoccu-
pied with human lile, and less conscious ol our relation to non-human
nature. Literature reects this, and the more advanced the civilisation,
the more literature seems to concern itsell with purely human prollems
and conicts. 1he gods and heroes ol the old myths lade away and give
place to people like ourselves. In Shakespeare we can still have heroes
who can see ghosts and talk in magnicent poetry, lut ly the time we
get to Becketts Waiting for Godot theyre speaking prose and have turned
into ghosts themselves (..). 1he prollems ol human nature and human
existence, however, have not changed literature is still doing the same
6 | Introduction
jol that mythology did earlier and literature remains as a lundamen-
tal means to mediate human lile and the way it deals with the world in
which it operates. 1he techniques and language necessarily change, lut
the essential work ol literature, its projection ol human issues and con-
cerns onto the external landscape, remains.
Classical literature still does have enormous importance and appeal.
Lomers Achilles has nothing ostensilly modern alout him. Le is a
hero in the mythic sense. In Fryes words: Achilles is more than any
man could le, lecause hes also what a man wishes he could le hes
a great smouldering lorce ol human desire and lrustration and dis-
content, something we all have in us too, part ol mankind as a whole.
Rolody cares now alout the historical Achilles, il there ever was one,
lut the mythical Achilles reects a part ol our own lives (.). ve are not
reading literature to learn alout the lactual details ol the 1rojan var lut
lor other reasons. Ancient literature, as exotic and dierent lrom our
society as it may le, reects part ol the universal human condition and,
as such, never loses its relevance.
Il literature is alout the world ol the imagined, where anything can
and does take place, what is its value ve have already seen that this
literary world reveals us to ourselves and expands the minds horizons.
Frye adds to this list the encouragement ol tolerance. Bigots and lan-
atics seldom have any use lor the arts. Le does admit that a negative
outcome could le dilettantism, lut dismisses this as less common and
less dangerous. I would add the lact that some ol the leading lights ol the
Razi ideology were prominent academics, so no one could argue that the
educated imagination is guaranteed to le lree ol prejudice or ligotry,
only that one has the right to expect that it will more likely le sensitive
and compassionate. Indeed, literature doesnt come with guarantees ol
accompanying compassion as the anti-Semitism ol Pound, Eliot, and
Celine sadly demonstrate. Frye speaks only ol possililities and expecta-
tions. Literature is not religion, and oers no leliel system, no panacea,
yet il we shut the vision ol it completely out ol our minds something
goes dead inside us, perhaps the one thing that its really important to
keep alive ().
I do not mean to suggest and Frye certainly was not promoting
the idea that literature is primarily an exercise in moral development.
1eachers ol literature at all levels take great pains to demonstrate that
literature incorporates history, sociology and other domains, lut is rst
and loremost an aesthetic experience. Literary techniques are studied
Paul Socken | 7
in detail to illustrate how, lor example, the carelul choice ol words or
images, the development ol character, the structure ol the work illumin-
ate the work lrom within and create its leauty and meaning. 1he French
have an expression lorme et lond (style and content) which means
that lorm or expression and content are inextrically linked. Any separ-
ation would le articial. Fryes discussion constitutes only one aspect ol
the complex and nuanced pursuit which is the reading ol literature.
Literature is mostly a serious undertaking. 1hink ol the chronicling
ol society ly Balzac, Flaulert, and /ola. In literature, we always seem to
le looking either up or down (c). vhether it deals with social issues,
is mythic in nature or otherwise, literature requires an engagement with
the real world lut dierently lrom other lorms ol writing. Frye uses
the example ol the scene in King Lear where Gloucesters eyes are put
out. 1he audience knows lull well that a real llinding is not taking place:
In a dramatic scene ol cruelty and hatred, were seeing cruelty and
hatred, which we know are permanently real things in human lile, lrom
the point ol view ol the imagination. vhat the imagination suggests is
horror, not the paralyzing sickening horror ol a real llinding scene, lut
an exulerant horror, lull ol the energy ol repudiation. 1his is as power-
lul a rendering as we can ever get ol lile as we dont want it (.). Be-
pudiation, lile as we dont want it this is the realism ol literature. It
isnt lile; its a statement on lile, sometimes positive, usually negative. It
lorces the reader or viewer to conlront a ction which rings true. Or, as
Picasso put it, art is a lie that makes us realize truth. It is that truth that
all art attempts to reveal.
Frye writes that some people lelieve that Shakespeare could not pos-
silly have written the works ascriled to him lecause they think that lit-
erature comes lrom lived experience. An actor lrom a small town in the
English Hidlands could not, they think, have experienced lile in royal
courts or Italian cities. 1hey dont understand that literature is a product
ol the imagination. Literature is two dreams, a wish-lulllment dream
and an anxiety dream, that are locused together, like a pair ol glasses,
and lecome a lully conscious vision. Art, according to Plato, is a dream
lor awakened minds, a work ol imagination withdrawn lrom ordinary
lile, dominated ly the same lorces that dominate the dream, and yet
giving us a perspective and dimension on reality that we dont get lrom
any other approach to reality (). Frye calls literature mans revelation
to man, which I take to mean a kind ol secular sharing ol truth revealed
through the imagination.
8 | Introduction
1he other arts painting and music, lor example are intrinsically
valualle lut can also le considered part ol literary training in that they,
too, are constructs ol the human imagination. ve study literature separ-
ately lrom music, and music separately lrom painting, etc., each disci-
pline sell-contained, and we olten lorget alout the organic whole the
culture that produced all ol these expressions ol the human imagination
ol that era. 1he triumph ol Kenneth Clarks Civilisation

is his singular
success in explaining the spirit ol the great ages and periods ol western
civilization through the variety ol artistic expression. Clark examines in
detail the architecture, music, sculpture, and art ol each era as the mani-
lestation ol the spirit ol the age. 1he endeavour was rst a television
series and the look is the transcript ol those programmes. I reler here
to Kenneth Clarks marvellous achievement lecause it is an important
reminder that literature is part ol a vital human enterprise ol expression
that gives meaning and purpose to all that society undertakes.

As Shelleys Ozymandius reminds us, all we have lelt ol past civil-
izations is not conquest, not people, not treasure, lut words, paintings,
architecture, sculpture and music.
I met a traveller lrom an antique land
vho said: 1wo vast and trunkless legs ol stone
Stand in the desert ... Rear them, on the sand,
Lall sunk a shattered visage lies, whose lrown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer ol cold command,
1ell that its sculptor well those passions read
vhich yet survive, stamped on these lileless things,
1he hand that mocked them and the heart that led,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
Hy name is Ozymandius, King ol Kings,
Look on my works, ye Highty, and despair'
Rothing leside remains. Bound the decay
Ol that colossal wreck, loundless and lare,
1he lone and level sands stretch lar away.
Contrasting the antique kings sneer and arrogance is the nothing that
remains. Even the sculpture ol the king is a colossal wreck. Beading
the poem aloud (the l in loundless and lare, the l ol lone and
level, the s ol sands stretch) helps to emphasize the mocking tone
Paul Socken | 9
ol the poet who undermines the idea that earthly power and the oljects
ol empire have any lasting presence or inuence. It is art that is the sum
total ol the lest that has leen thought and done. It is the poem that re-
mains to ridicule the pretension ol the king.
Frye would have decried the notion ol literature as uselul or rel-
evant as so many people today expect art to le, lut he did see a social
vision at the heart ol literary study: 1he lundamental jol ol the imagin-
ation in ordinary lile, then, is to produce, out ol the society we live in, a
vision ol the society we want to live in (6c). Living as we do in a society
ol advertising, cliche, and jargon, we must cultivate the use ol language
and expression in order to remain lree: ou see, lreedom has nothing
to do with lack ol training; it can only le the product ol training. oure
not lree to move unless youve learned to walk, and not lree to play the
piano unless you practise. Rolody is capalle ol lree speech unless he
knows how to use language, and such knowledge is not a gilt: it has to le
learned and worked at (6).
1o sum up Fryes idea ol what constitutes the educated imagination,
one would have to conclude that the imagination and it is the liter-
ary imagination in particular that is under discussion here deals with
what is the most proloundly and uniquely human aspect ol our lives. 1he
imagination that is sensitized through contact with literature in other
words, educated demonstrates certain characteristics. It experiences
a personal engagement with the writers world, knows what it leels like
to inhalit another persons moral universe, reects on the human con-
dition and, one has reason to hope, enalles a person to lecome a more
tolerant and worldly citizen. Such a reader has seen through the eyes
ol the writer a truth that humanizes and, in some cases, motivates to
action, the sensitive reader. It is this perhaps overly idealized view ol
reading that Frye relers to as mans revelation to man. Overly idealized
or not, it deserves reconsideration. Rot all literature does this or even
aspires to do this. Lowever, the mere lact that it can perlorm this lunc-
tion enriches and ennolles the literary eort.
. The Educated Imagination (1oronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation),
10 | Introduction
. ssc Books, .p6p.
Clark is not without his critics in the words ol one, his inalility to con-
template the idea that there could le a symliotic relationship letween cul-
ture and oppression is a weakness lut his view ol cultural expression as
part ol a totality is an important idea.
Technology, Science, and the Book
Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to
oljects. Rot that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.
valter Benjamin, Inpacking Hy Lilrary
1he medium is the message. 1his is merely to say that the personal
and social consequences ol any medium that is, ol any extension
ol ourselves result lrom the new scale that is introduced into our
aairs ly each extension ol ourselves or ly any new technology.
Harshall HcLuhan, Understanding Media
War and Peace has long leen a name to conjure with. 1hough not the
lengthiest European novel, or even the most complex, 1olstoys master-
piece lunctions in highlrow circles as the look ol looks a shorthand
way ol summing up all ol the qualities that make a work ol literature
great. In other circles, it lunctions primarily as a negative much like
the prolession ol rocket science. 1o say that a look is not War and Peace
is to say that it lacks literary helt. A young novelist, lor example, might
propose her rst look to a pullisher ly saying, its not War and Peace,
lut it does tell a good story. And years later, the same pullisher might
write lack something like, you dont have to write War and Peace, you
know, just get us a manuscript.
Why I Read War and Peace on a Kindle (and
Bought the Book When I Was Done)
Michael Austin
14 | Technology, Science, and the Book
As we shilt into an Internet culture, not War and Peace is quickly le-
coming part ol the standard prole lor new media technologies. In his
very smart look The Shallows, Richolas Carr quotes several Internet-age
opinions on the veneralle Bussian classic. Ro one reads War and Peace,
according to a llog post ly xxt scholar Clay Shirky, its too long, and
not so interesting, and the lascination that it held lor previous genera-
tions was just a side-eect ol living in an environment ol impoverished
access (...). Even more startling is the conlession ol Bruce Friedman,
a pathologist at the Iniversity ol Hichigan Hedical School: I cant read
War and Peace anymore Ive lost the alility to do that. Even a llog post
ol more than three or lour paragraphs is too much to alsorl. I skim it
(). 1he smart money in the academy says that War and Peace and all it
represents will soon le shoved unceremoniously aside to make room
lor the wonders ol the digital age.
Intil very recently, I had never read War and Peace mysell, despite le-
ing a long-time admirer ol War-and-Peace-like things (including the
even-longer novel Clarissa, ly Samuel Bichardson, lor whom my only
daughter is named). Like most academics I have a contrarian nature,
and news ol 1olstoys impending demise only made me want to read his
greatest masterpiece more. And assertions ol its lundamental incom-
patilility with the digital age made me want to do something radical: to
read it on my Amazon Kindle an extravagant purchase that I justied
to mysell, and my wile, with the assertion that it would allow me to save
money and shell space ly downloading and reading lree classics lrom
the Internet. By using a digital-age device to read one ol the print ages
greatest classics, I reasoned, I could do my part to lridge the gap to
demonstrate (at least to mysell) that great old literature and awesome
new technology can co-exist peacelully in the age ol Apple and Amazon.
I have always had some desire to read War and Peace, lor the same rea-
sons that younger, thinner people want to climl Ht. Everest lecause
it is lig, lecause it is lamous, and lecause most people will never do
it. Over the years, I made several alortive attempts, lut I never made it
leyond the rst lew chapters. vhen I lecame a Kindle owner, however,
I ran out ol excuses and decided to take the plunge. But I did not take this
step lightly. Like a mountain climler, I started training months in ad-
vance. I read several lesser Bussian novels loth Anna Karenina and
The Brothers Karamazov just to get the hang ol the genre (I did not re-
alize, lor example, that every character in a Bussian novel has six dier-
Michael Austin | 15
ent names, which took a lot ol getting used to). I downloaded a War and
Peace study guide, also lor the Kindle, and I used the preview lunction
to download the rst chapters ol several dierent translations so that I
could choose the lest. Alter much delileration, I purchased and down-
loaded the highly recommended new translation ly Bichard Pevear and
Larissa \olokhonsky, pullished ly \intage classics in .cc (so much lor
the idea ol lree classics). And then I was o. I devoted all ol my non-
work time lor six weeks, lrom . July to . August .c.c, to a single task:
reading War and Peace on my Kindle.
I do enjoy the Kindle reading experience it is a perlect platlorm
lor somelody who likes loth new gadgets and old looks. 1he screen
lunctions more like a high-tech Etch-a-Sketch than a computer mon-
itor its uses a magnetic ink, rather than light pixels, and the result is
something very much like a look. 1he Kindles scalalle text allows me
to make the words large enough to read without my glasses, and the
adjustalle column width makes the text narrow enough to support the
speed-reading techniques that I studied in college. For six weeks I took
my Kindle everywhere, and, whenever anyone asked, I proudly armed
that I was reading nothing less than War and Peace.
But it was the novel, not the device that made the experience perlect.
1he six weeks that I spent with 1olstoy were lled with revelations. I
loved loth the sweeping story ol Rapoleons invasion and the smaller,
domestic narratives that t inside ol the larger plot. I was intellectually
engaged ly the authors long digressions on history and narrative, and I
discovered in 1olstoy a new lavourite character: General Hikhail Kutu-
zov, the Bussian general who deleated Rapoleon without ever winning
a lattle. Kutuzov won ly looking lar ahead and seeing that the Grand
Army would le deleated ly circumstances already in play the rough
terrain, the overextended supply line, and the Bussian winter. 1he only
way he could lose was to give Rapoleon the comlat that he so desperately
wanted. By relusing to ght an unnecessary lattle, Kutuzov won a total
victory. I cant imagine a letter model lor an academic administrator,
and, since reading it, I have tried hard to lring the spirit ol Kutozovism
into my own leadership roles.
War and Peace conveyed more moments ol insight, not to mention
genuine pleasure, than I could possilly discuss in a lriel essay. I
enjoyed it immensely, and I especially enjoyed the experience ol reading
it on a digital device. But when I clicked on the last screen and put my
16 | Technology, Science, and the Book
Kindle lack on my shell, something lelt wrong. I had just (in my mind)
accomplished something lig, something epic, and I wanted a trophy. I
lelt like I needed something to put on my shell and look at lrequently to
remind mysell ol the accomplishment. I do not plan to reread the novel
(and even il I did, I would prolally do it again on the Kindle), lut it lelt
wrong not to own a look that had meant so much to me. Its not that I
wanted to display a copy ol one ol the worlds great masterpieces on my
shell. I already own two other translations ol War and Peace, and they
have leen on my shelves lor years. But I wanted, needed, the intimacy
that valter Benjamin speaks ol in Inpacking Hy Lilrary the inti-
macy ol ownership, ol assimilating the material lact ol the look into my
own corporeal existence.
For several weeks in August, I lecame olsessed with a desire to own
more than just the non-translerralle digital rights to the wonderlul look
I had just read. But I had already spent money lor the digital edition, and
it made no sense to spend even more money lor a paper copy. And there
were principles involved: one ol the main reasons I lought a Kindle was
to save shell space. But as much as I have tried, intellectually, to em-
lrace the digital-age idea that a look is its content and not its physical
lorm, I know viscerally that this is nonsense. Books have loth an ideal
and a material existence, and trying to consume the lormer without the
latter just doesnt work at least not lor me. Somehow, everything that I
took lrom the look seemed like stolen property. Even though I had paid
almost as much to download the look as I would have to pay to purchase
it, I still lelt like a cheater.
So, alter much delileration, and lully aware that I was leing a non-
rational consumer, I purchased a leautilul, red and green paperlack
edition ol War and Peace, which sits at my desk as I write. Like getting
lree classics, saving shell space lecame a casualty ol my own olses-
sive nature. But the look is now mine, all mine, and I will own it lor the
rest ol my lile.
I am a look owner. 1his does not just mean that I own looks; it means
that owning looks is a major part ol how I dene mysell to mysell. I cant
imagine leing without my looks any more than I can imagine leing
without my lamily. 1his is true ol the looks that I have read, lut also
Michael Austin | 17
ol the looks that I own and have yet to read and ol some that I will
prolally never read at all. I enjoy reading looks, lut I also enjoy owning
them, collecting them, and knowing that I own them. 1his is not vanity;
I dont care who else knows what looks I own. As long as I know, I am
I have always owned looks my parents valued literacy and made
sure that my room was always lull ol age-appropriate classics lut I
lecame a look owner during my junior year ol high school. Soon alter
I turned seventeen, my mother, who was teaching a church workshop
on classic literature, lrought home a copy ol Oscar vildes The Picture
of Dorian Gray. She gave me the look and asked me to read it and tell
her whether or not it would make a good sulject lor her lesson. I dont
rememler that much alout the reading experience (though I have read
and taught Dorian Gray several times since), and I am lairly sure that I
didnt read the look very deeply. But I read it, I understood much ol what
it was saying, and I realized almost immediately that I knew things that
none ol my peers did: I knew alout The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Finding something to lase an identity upon was no small occupation
lor the high-school version ol me. I was not particularly good at anything
during that phase ol my lile. I had no athletic alility, no other talents to
speak ol, my grades were mainly Bs and Cs, I was not popular, and, gen-
erally, I had very lew characteristics that would have set me apart lrom a
potted plant. But ly the time that I nished my rst lona-de classic, I
already knew that looks were going to le my ticket into somelodyhood.
Once I decided to lase my lile on looks, I suppose, the next logical
step would have leen to read a lew lut it would actually le several years
lelore I tried to read another classic on my own. Instead, I lought looks.
Lots ol looks. I persuaded my parents to give me their old paperlacks so
that I could trade them lor anything that looked like a classic. I rode my
like lrom garage sale to garage sale looking lor .-cent looks that oozed
dignity. And I spent every extra dollar I earned on anything that seemed
like a great look ol the vestern world. In the process, I accumulated
quite a lilrary lor a high school student who didnt read much three
or lour shelves ol hopelessly mismatched classics, some ol which I still
own: The Adventures of Augie March, Elmer Gantry, Walden, Lord Jim, The
Social Contract, The Unvanquished, Crime and Punishment, Antigone, and,
yes, even War and Peace a gilt lrom my high school delate coach, who
hoped I would one day write another novel lor the ages.
18 | Technology, Science, and the Book
I did not read these looks when I was in high school, lut I owned them
with style. I looked at them every day, arranged and rearranged them on
my shelves, read alout the authors in the World Book Encyclopedia, and
memorized lists ol Rolel and Pulitzer Prizes lor literature. I took my li-
lrary with me when I went to college, and I added to it whenever I got
the chance. I hauled all ol the looks to my lreshman dorm room, where
I hoped they would impress girls (they didnt), and I kept moving looks
lrom apartment to apartment lor years lully intending, some day, to
read them all.
And somewhere in the process, I did read them. And I lecame a per-
son lor whom looks were important as ideas and not just as things
somelody, in lact, whose greatest joy in lile has come lrom leing alle to
make a living ly reading, teaching, and writing alout looks. 1hese days,
I still spend most ol my disposalle income on looks, loth lor mysell
and lor my children, loth ol whom are look owners extraordinaire. ve
read many ol these looks together, and they have legun to read them on
their own. ve go to the lilrary regularly, lut we also luy looks. Lots ol
looks. Both my intuition and my experience tell me that they will one
day le happier people lecause, as children, they were owners ol looks.
In .c.c, my leelings alout looks got a major loost lrom science,
as two major studies pullished that year conlirmed things that I have
lelieved lor years: that children (like all other people) should own
looks, that lilraries are wonderlul things lor children lut cannot
sulstitute lor look ownership, and that looks owned impact childrens
lives much more than looks lorrowed. 1he rst study was conducted in
low-income school districts across the Inited States. Besearchers lound
that students who received lree looks each summer lor three years
perlormed sulstantially letter on reading tests than students lrom the
same districts who did not receive looks. 1he researchers in this study
made no attempt to determine whether or not the students actually read
the looks they were given. Book ownership was the only varialle under
consideration and the only varialle that correlated with higher achieve-
ments in reading (Allington et al.).
1he second study, a very thorough one that examined more than
c,ccc suljects in twenty-seven countries, lound that students who
grow up in homes with looks stay in school an average ol three years
longer than students who grow up in homes without looks. 1he large
sample size in this study allowed researchers to control carelully lor
Michael Austin | 19
other lactors that could inlluence school longevity; they lound that the
students received the same advantage independent ol their parents
education, occupation, and class and that the results hold equally in
rich nations and poor; in the past and in the present; under Communism,
capitalism, and Apartheid; and, most strongly, in China (Evans, ..).
1hese studies, and others over the past twenty years, suggest that look
ownership can enhance literacy in ways that cannot le attriluted to any
other lactor, including look readership. 1his does not mean that reading
looks is unimportant, ol course, or that children must own every look
that they read. It does mean that something happens to a childs sell-
perception when he or she is a look owner that does not happen or
does not happen to the same extent to those who read looks without
owning them. Its not the physical presence ol the looks that produces
the liggest impact, Iavid Brooks writes in the New York Times, com-
menting on the rst study and paraphrasing an anonymous look donor,
its the change in the way the students see themselves as they luild a
home lilrary. 1hey see themselves as readers, as memlers ol a dierent
group (.). Salon columnist Laura Hiller agrees: As much as we love
lilraries, there is something in possessing a look that is signicantly
dierent lrom lorrowing it, especially lor a child. ou can write your
name in it and keep it always. It translorms you into the kind of person
who owns books, a memler ol the clul, as well as part ol a lamily that has
them around the house. oure no longer just a visitor to the realm ol the
written word: youve got a passport (j 8).
And this is my experience exactly. In a very real way, looks changed
my lile ultimately lecause I read them, lut initially lecause I owned
them. Laving my own lilrary ol classic looks made me a dierent kind
ol person namely, the kind ol person who owns a lilrary ol classic
looks. Beading them, loving them, and learning lrom them lollowed
naturally lrom this ontological position. 1hough I still own more looks
than I have read, the numler has leen shrinking lor years. But will
never, I hope, get to zero.
Electronic readers are material oljects too things that can le pur-
chased, owned, gazed lovingly upon, and placed upon a shell. And many
ol my lriends who read on their Kindles, Rooks, and iPads have asked,
20 | Technology, Science, and the Book
quite reasonally, il it matters whether one reads a great look on pages
or screens. Its still a great look, isnt it Hy usual answer is that, lor
now, unless one happens to have a deep emotional attachment to stacks
ol paper, there is no dierence at all. A great look is indeed a great look,
and the experience ol reading a great look on an electronic device is su-
perior in many ways to the experience ol reading a printed look.
1he lor now, however, is important. 1he physical character ol a
digital reader is very dierent than the physical character ol a look.
1hey do dierent things and have dierent native capalilities. Cur-
rently, e-readers are doing their lest to look like looks, or, at least, to
deliver approximately the same sensory experiences that printed looks
do. But the long history ol technological innovation tells us that this will
not always le the case. One need not care much lor Karl Harx to recog-
nize the validity ol one ol his central tenets: that the material lacts ol a
society determine the shape ol its culture its art, its music, its philoso-
phy, its religion, and, ol course, its literature.
Badical new inlormation technologies almost always start out aping
what they eventually replace. 1he earliest printed looks used typelaces
carelully constructed to look like elegant medieval calligraphy, and the
rst television lroadcasts did little more than place a camera in lront
ol live sporting events and traditional vaudeville shows. But operators
soon learned how to exploit the capalilities ol the new technologies,
and, in time, loth looks and television programs evolved into things
very dierent lrom their predecessors. 1he medium may or may not le
the message, as Harshall HcLuhan lamously opines, lut it certainly de-
termines how the message looks and, more olten than we like to admit,
what the message says. As Richolas Carr concludes in his look The Shal-
lows, the high-tech leatures ol devices like the Kindle and Apples new
iPad may make it more likely that well read e-looks, lut the way we read
them will le very dierent lrom the way we read printed editions (.c).
1hough they are now leing used almost exclusively to mimic the printed
page, e-look readers already have the alility to do much more. 1hey
can, lor example, include hyperlinks to other texts and welsites within
the text ol the e-look, they can incorporate audio and video streams
right alongside the text, they can create real-time connections letween
people reading the same look all over the world, and they can lets not
le naive alout the motives ol corporations supplement our reading
Michael Austin | 21
with advertisements tailored to our known reading and look-luying
halits. Can we doult that these capalilities will eventually le exploited
to their lull potential in the e-look market
Il the history ol intellectual technology is any guide, two things will
happen as we move lrom a paper culture into a mainly digital one. First,
our denition ol literacy will evolve to account lor the capalilities ol
the new technology. Rot only will the looks ol the luture look very dil-
lerent than looks ol any kind look today, our understanding ol what it
means to read them will also change dramatically. Currently, somelody
who is good at reading a look will usually disappear lrom the pullic
sphere lor some period ol time, concentrate in solitude on a set ol words
and meanings, compare these words and meanings to other words and
meanings, and then re-enter the pullic sphere with some new under-
standing to share with the world. vhen a look lecomes something
that can always le connected to the Internet, and reading involves
processing streams ol inlormation and distraction lrom several media
at once, then good readers will need to possess an entirely dierent set
ol skills than they do now.
1he second thing that will happen il Carrs arguments alout neuro-
plasticity are correct is that our lrains will physically change to meet
the demands ol these new denitions ol literacy. A central point ol The
Shallows, which Carr supports with solid research in cognitive neurosci-
ence, is that our lrains are designed to le very exille in how they pro-
cess inlormation. As we encounter dierent technologies, our neural
pathways change; they alandon unused connections and lorm new ones
that allow us to exploit the tools that our culture gives us lor locating,
processing, and evaluating the inlormation that we encounter in our
1he neurological changes created ly new technologies are not evolu-
tionary; they do not require natural selection to act on human variations
to produce gradual changes over long periods ol time. 1hese changes
work much laster. As it has with so many other things (language, lood
prelerences, moral sentiments) natural selection has designed our
inlormation-processing systems to adapt to the environments that we
nd ourselves in to process inlormation in whatever shape the world
chooses to dispense it. ve can even develop new processing alilities
within our liletimes, much as we can learn a new language, lut this
22 | Technology, Science, and the Book
cognitive plasticity is not innite. 1he more time and energy we spend
developing one set ol cognitive skills, the harder it lecomes lor us to de-
velop, or even to rememler, others.
Lumans have seen these kinds ol dramatic shilts lelore. Consider
how valter Ong characterizes the dierence letween orality and lit-
eracy. Oral cultures, he writes, produced powerlul and leautilul ver-
lal perlormances ol high artistic and human worth, which are no longer
even possille once writing has taken possession ol the psyche. But
writing conveys a new set ol alilities as well. It is alsolutely necessary
lor the development not only ol science lut also ol history, philosophy,
explicative understanding ol literature and ol any art (..). Compar-
alle cognitive changes occurred when societies adopted printed texts,
radio, and television. 1here is no doult that the digital age will pro-
duce and indeed already has produced similar changes to the way
that most people process and evaluate inlormation.
vhat, then, will lecome ol War and Peace vill it still le possille lor
people to read long, complicated looks in any lormat in a hundred,
or a thousand years Some people will always le alle to read long looks,
just as some people still ride horses, cook on open res, create hand-
written manuscripts and tell long stories that they never write down. (I
even have a cousin who still listens to eight-track tapes.) 1he alility to
use a technology rarely disappears lrom the human world entirely. But
changes in the way that societies process inlormation do have real con-
sequences lor the way that most people think alout most things. People
lorn into a world where they are expected to lecome electronic media
consumers, rather than look owners, will gain skills that people lrom
my generation can larely lathom. But they will lose things as well, and I
am not just talking alout the pleasure ol owning a material item. In my
opinion, the two most endangered aspects ol what we now call reading
are solitude and concentration loth ol which have all lut vanished in
those parts ol the culture already saturated with digital media, and loth
ol which are currently making their last stands in the pages and, yes,
on the screens ol looks.
Solitude has leen a casualty ol connectedness. As a culture, we are
losing the alility to le alone. I certainly am. vhen I rst discovered
e-mail I checked it once a day or less. Row, it is constantly on in my
oce, my home, and thanks to my new iPhone in my pocket. It has
leen some time since I have counted the numler ol times a day that I
Michael Austin | 23
check my two e-mail accounts, three Facelook pages, my llog, or my
1witter leed, lut it would certainly numler in the hundreds. Even when
I write, I have e-mail and olten Facelook loaded in the lackground
and set to ring an electronic lell when I get a new message. 1he only
time that I am truly alone is when I am reading a look, and once the
Kindle comes lundled with e-mail and social media soltware, I lear I
will lose even these lew moments ol solitude. I dont particularly like to
le alone which is why I rarely do the olvious thing and just turn o
all ol the screens that surround me lut I need to le alone, to read, to
think, to ruminate, and to make sense ol everything I encounter when I
am not.
Along with losing the alility to le alone, we are also losing the highly
correlated alility to concentrate on sustained messages lor long per-
iods ol time the alility, loth literally and metaphorically, to read War
and Peace. 1he Internet, as Carr so aptly characterizes it, is a culture ol
distraction. 1he Ret seizes our attention only to scatter it, he writes.
ve locus intensively on the medium itsell, on the ickering screen, lut
were distracted ly the mediums rapid-re delivery ol competing mes-
sages and stimuli (..8). vhether we like it or not, we are exchanging
a lrain that can locus on a single message lor a long period ol time lor
what Carr calls the jugglers lrain, whose cravings lor complexity are
satised ly paying attention to multiple messages, and multiple media,
at the same time a valualle skill to le sure, lut not the same skill as
locusing on a single narrative, or a single plot, lor hundreds ol pages at
a time.
And yet, much ol what is good in the world (and to le lair, much ol
what is lad) has come alout lecause people have leen alle to con-
centrate on single prollems lor long periods ol time. 1his is true lor
the worlds great geniuses Einstein, Edison, Rewton, and, ol course,
1olstoy. But it is just as true lor average people doing normal jols. Sus-
tained concentration is an essential element ol creative prollem solv-
ing a skill no less important lor machinists, nurses, and insurance
adjustors than lor theoretical physicists and world-class novelists. And
the high-tech, digital, worldwide economy that we are moving so rapidly
towards will require more people who can solve dicult prollems, not
lewer, even though the most visille lruits ol that economy computers
and the Internet are causing us to lose the alility to concentrate on the
very prollems that we most need to solve.
24 | Technology, Science, and the Book
I do not know what rough lookish least slouches towards Silicone
\alley to le lorn though some ol its contours are clearly visille in the
way that other print media have adapted themselves to the connect-
ive, multi-media character ol the Internet. 1he advantages ol digital
looks cheap production, instant distrilution, easy storage, and uni-
versal access will undoultedly cause them to displace printed looks
lor most people, and reading will change lundamentally as a result.
1hough there is no way to stop technology lrom happening, I continue to
hope that we will nd ways to preserve some ol the most important and
leautilul things alout reading as we know it today.
ve certainly have ample precedent lor preserving valualle aspects ol
older technologies. vriting displaced memorization thousands ol years
ago as the prelerred means ol storing inlormation, lut we still teach stu-
dents how to memorize and recall lacts. And though most people have
leen writing on typewriters and word processors lor generations, ele-
mentary schools are not indierent to handwriting. Surely luture gen-
erations will regard solitary reection and sustained concentration at
least as highly as they do the cursive alphalet.
But somelody will have to lead the eort, and, lor educators, it may
require a little lit ol creative disoledience. From preschool through
graduate school, teachers now come under enormous pressure to adopt
new technologies in the classroom and prepare students lor the digital
world. And adopt them we should, lor many ol the reasons given lut
not all ol them, and not all the time. Children are not going to miss out
on the glories ol Facelook and ou1ule lecause teachers lailed to in-
corporate social media in their classrooms. 1he Internet is the soup that
our students have leen swimming in all ol their lives, and, ly the time
that they reach middle school, they know everything that they need to
know alout clicking on hyperlinks, managing multiple data streams,
and using the vel to connect with their peers.
But even when they get to college, they very olten do not know how to
le alone. 1hey rarely encounter prollems that cannot le solved with a
lew Google searches or a general query to their ,ccc lest lriends. 1hey
have never leen asked to struggle with a text or a prollem lor hours and
emerge with an understanding that nolody not even the people who
Michael Austin | 25
write vikipedia has ever emerged with lelore. And il they cannot do
these things, they will not le ready lor any world, digital or otherwise,
that requires creativity, concentration, and the alility to diagnose and
solve dicult prollems. In my experience, teachers worry too much
alout meeting students where they are (which, it turns out, is always
somewhere on the Internet); lrom time to time, we must demand that
they meet us where we are and that they acquire cognitive skills and
halits that, though essential to their success in the luture, have not
always leen encouraged ly the technologies and ideologies they have
encountered in the past.
ve have no choice lut to live in a digital age. 1he occasional wooden
shoe in the textile mill aside, new technologies are extremely dicult to
resist; they oer too many lenets to too many people. But these lene-
ts never come without costs, or even losses. I realize that my prized
personal lilrary is already lecoming quaint and that my unreasonalle
love ol printed material will soon le seen ly my own children as, well,
unreasonalle. I can accept this, lut on the larger issues, I do not intend
to go quietly. War and Peace is worth preserving, along with Clarissa,
Middlemarch, Ulysses, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many other long,
complicated, and allegedly loring looks that dont work anything at all
like the vel. But the experience ol reading these looks, ol identilying
with their characters, and ol struggling to make them yield their secrets,
will have value lor a very long time not just lor the pleasures that the
looks deliver, lut lor the halits ol mind that they create.
1he digital age is here, and its technologies must le emlraced. And I
do emlrace them. 1hey have allowed me to do amazing things in nearly
every area ol my lile as a scholar, as a teacher, and as a person who
loves to read. I have no desire to go lack to the time when I wrote on a
manual typewriter and waited weeks lor people to answer my letters. I
like living in the digital present, and I am sure that I will emlrace what-
ever marvels the digital wizards have in store lor the luture even il it
means reading on devices that I cannot even imagine today. I will do so,
and do so gladly, lut I will always leel compelled to luy the look when I
am done.
26 | Technology, Science, and the Book
Works Cited
Allington, Bichard L., Anne HcGill-Franzen, Gregory Camilli, Lunetta vil-
liams, Jenniler Gra, Jacqueline /eig, Courtney /mach, and Bhonda Rowak.
Addressing Summer Beading Setlack among Economically Iisadvantaged
Elementary Students. Reading Psychology ., no. : ....
Brooks, Iavid. 1he Hedium Is the Hedium. New York Times, p July .c.c, ..
Carr, Richolas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. .st ed.
Rew ork: v.v. Rorton.
Evans, H.I.B., Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora, and Ionald J. 1reiman. Family
Scholarly Culture and Educational Success: Books and Schooling in . Ra-
tions. Research in Social Stratication and Mobility .8, no. .: ..p.
Hiller, Laura. Book Owners Lave Smarter Kids. Salon (. June .c.c),
Ong, valter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London and
Rew ork: Hethuen, .p8..
1he nature ol transition, how change works its way through a system,
how people acclimate to the new all these questions. So much ol the
change is driven ly technologies that are elusive il not altogether invis-
ille in their operation. Signals, data, networks. Rew halits and reexes.
vatch older people as they try to retool; watch the ease with which kids
who have nothing to unlearn go swimming lorward. Study their move-
ments, their aptitudes, their weaknesses. I wonder il any population in
history has had a ligger gull letween its youngest and oldest memlers.
I ask my students alout their reading halits, and though Im not
surprised to nd that lew read newspapers or print magazines, many
check in with online news sources, aggregate sites, incessantly. 1hey are
seldom away lrom their screens lor long, lut thats true ol us, their par-
ents, as well.
But how do we start to measure eects ol this and everything else
1he outer look ol things stays much the same, which is to say that the
outer look ol things has not caught up with the olten intangille trans-
lormations. Rewspapers are still sold and delivered; lookstores still pile
their sale talles high. It is easy lor the critic to le accused ol alarmism.
And yet
Inlormation comes to seem like an environment. Il anything im-
portant happens anywhere, we will le inlormed. 1he eect ol this is
to pull the world in close. Rothing penetrates, or punctures. 1he real,
which used to le dened ly sensory immediacy, is redened.
Reading in a Digital Age
Notes on Why the Novel and the Internet Are
Opposites, and Why the Latter Both Undermines
the Former and Makes It More Necessary
Sven Birkerts
28 | Technology, Science, and the Book
From the vantage point ol hindsight, that which came lelore so olten
looks quaint, at least with respect to technology. Indeed, we have a hard
time imagining that the users werent at some level aware ol the alsurd-
ity ol what they were doing. Hovies lring this recognition to us londly;
they give us the evidence. 1he switchloard operators crisscrossing the
wires into the right slots; Iad settling into his luxury automolile, all ns
and chrome; Junior ringing the lell on his like as he heads o on his
paper route. 1he marvel is that all ol them all ol us concealed their
emlarrassment so well. 1he attitude ol the present to the past well, it
depends on who is looking. 1he older you are, the more likely it is that
your regard will le lenign indulgent, even nostalgic. outh, ly con-
trast, quickly gets derisive, preening itsell on knowing letter, ollivious
to the lact that its toys will le lound no less preposterous ly the next
wave ol the young.
1hese notions came at me the other night while I was watching the
opening scenes ol vim venderss .p8 lm Wings of Desire, which has
as its premise the active presence ol angels in our midst. 1he scene that
triggered me was set in a vast and spacious modern lilrary. 1he camera
swooped with angelic lreedom, up the wide staircases, panning vertically
to a kind ol lalcony outcrop where Bruno Ganz, one ol venderss angels,
stood looking down. Below him people moved like insects, studying
shelves, removing looks, negotiating this great archive ol items.
Hayle it was the idea ol angels that did it the insertion ol the time-
less perspective into this moment ol modern-day Berlin. I dont know,
lut in a ash I lelt mysell looking lack in time lrom a distant and dis-
engaged vantage. I was seeing it all as through the eyes ol the luture, and
what I lelt, lelore I could check mysell, was a lemused pity: the gaze
ol a now on a then that does not yet know it is a then, which is unsell-
consciously lullling itsell.
Suddenly its possille to imagine a world in which many interactions
lormerly dependent on print on paper happen screen to screen. Its no
stretch, no exercise in luturism. ou can pretty much extrapolate lrom
the halits and lehaviours ol kids in their teens and twenties, who navi-
gate their lives with little or no recourse to paper. In class they sit with
their laptops open on the talle in lront ol them. I pretend they are taking
course-related notes, lut would not le surprised to nd out they are
writing to lriends, working on papers lor other courses, or just troll-
Sven Birkerts | 29
ing their lavourite sites while they listen. vhenever there is a question
alout anything a date, a pullication, the meaning ol a word they give
me the answer lelore Ive nished my sentence. From where they stand,
venderss lilrary users already have a sepia colouration. I know that I
present look inlormation to them with a slight delensiveness; I wrap my
pronouncements in a pre-emptive irony. I could not lear to le earnest
alout the things that matter to me and nd them received with that tol-
erant lemusement I spoke ol, that leeway we extend to the leliels and
passions ol our elders.
os Slogan: ve search the way you think.
I just nished reading an article in Harpers ly Gary Greenlerg (A
Hind ol Its Own) on the latest looks on neuropsychology, the gist ol
which recognizes an emerging consensus in the eld, and mayle, more
lrighteningly, in the culture at large: that there may not le such a thing
as mind apart lrom lrain lunction. As Eric Kandel, one ol the writers
discussed, puts it: Hind is a set ol operations carried out ly the lrain,
much as walking is a set ol operations carried out ly the legs, except dra-
matically more complex. Its easy to let the terms and comparisons slide
alstractly past, to miss the lull weight ol implication. But Greenlerg is
enough ol an old humanist to recognize when the great supporting trunk
ol his worldview is leing crosscut just lelow where he is standing and
to realize that everything he deems sacred is under threat. Lis recogni-
tion may not le so dierent lrom the one that underlays the emergence
ol Rietzsches thought. But il Rietzsche lound a place ol rescue in man
himsell, his Superman transcending himsell to occupy the void lelt ly
the loss the murder ol God, there is no comparalle delault now.
Brain lunctioning cannot stand in lor mind, once mind has leen un-
masked as that, unless we somehow grant that the nature ol lrain par-
takes ol what we had allowed might le the nature ol mind. vhich seems
logically impossille, as the nature ol mind allowed possililities ol con-
nection and lulllment leyond the strictly material, and the nature ol
lrain is strictly material. It means that what we had imagined to le the
something more ol experience is created in-house ly that three-pound
lundle ol neurons, and that it is not pointing to a larger denition ol
reality so much as to a capacity lor narrative projection engendered ly
innitely complex chemical reactions. Ro chance ol a wizard lehind the
curtain. 1he wizard is us, our chemicals mingling.
30 | Technology, Science, and the Book
And il you still think God made us, writes Greenlerg, theres a
neurochemical reason lor that too. Le quotes writer Iavid Linden,
author ol The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love,
Memory, Dreams, and God ('): Our lrains have lecome particularly
adapted to creating coherent, gap-lree stories 1his propensity lor
narrative creation is part ol what predisposes us humans to religious
thought. Ol course one can, must, ask whence narration itsell. vhat in
us requires story rather than the chaotic pullulation that might more ac-
curately descrile what is
Greenlerg also cites philosopher Karl Popper, his leliel that the
neuroscientic worldview will gradually displace what he calls the
mentalist perspective: vith the progress ol lrain research, the lan-
guage ol the physiologists is likely to penetrate more and more into or-
dinary language, and to change our picture ol the universe, including
that ol common sense. So we shall le talking less and less alout experi-
ences, perceptions, thoughts, leliels, purposes and aims; and more and
more alout lrain processes vhen this stage has leen reached, men-
talism will le stone dead, and the prollem ol mind and its relation to the
lody will have solved itsell.
But it is not only developments in lrain science that are creating this
deep shilt in the human outlook. 1his research advances hand in hand
with the wholesale implementation and steady expansion ol the exter-
nalized neural network: the digitizing ol almost every sphere ol human
activity. Long past leing a mere arriving technology, the digital is at this
point ensconced as a paradigm, lully saturating our ordinary language.
vho can doult that even when we are not thinking, when we are merely
lunctioning in our new world, we are premising that world very dier-
ently than did our parents or the many generations preceding them
vhat is the place ol the lormer world now, its still-lamiliar lut also
strangely sepia-tinged assumptions alout the sell acting in a larger and,
in lrightening and thrilling ways, inexplicalle world
Let me go lack to that assertion ly Linden: Our lrains have lecome
particularly adapted to creating coherent, gap-lree stories 1his pro-
pensity lor narrative creation is part ol what predisposes us humans to
religious thought. vhat a topic lor surmising' I would almost go so lar
as to say that it is a mystery as great as the original creation the what,
how, and whither the contemplation ol how chemicals in comlina-
tion create things we call narratives, and how these narratives elicit the
Sven Birkerts | 31
extraordinary responses they do lrom chemicals in comlination. 1he
idea ol narrative creation carries a great deal in its train. For narra-
tive story is not the same thing as simple sequentiality. 1o say I went
here and then here and then did this and then did that is not narrative,
at least not in the sense that Im sure Linden intends. Ro, narration is
sequence that claims signicance. Animals, lor example, do not narrate,
even though they are well aware ol sequence and ol the consequences ol
actions. Hy master has picked up my lowl and has gone with it into that
room; he will return with my lood. 1his is a chain ol events linked ly a
causal expectation, lut it stops there. Luman narratives are events and
descriptions selected and arranged lor meaning.
1he question, as always, is one ol origins. Iid man invent narra-
tive or, owing to whatever predispositions in his makeup, inherit it Is
coming into human consciousness also a coming into narrative is it
part ol the nature ol human consciousness to seek and create narrative,
which is to say meaning vhat would it mean then that chemicals in
comlination created meaning, or the idea ol meaning, or the tools with
which meaning is sought created that ly which their own structure and
operation was theorized and questioned Il that were true, then mere
matter would have to le dened as having as one ol its possililities that
ol regarding itsell.
ve assume that logical thought, syllogistic analytical reason, is the ne-
cessary, right thought and we do so lecause this same thought leads us
to think this way. Ro exit, it seems. Except that logical thought will allow
that there may le other logics, though it cannot explicate them. Another
quote lrom the Harpers article, this lrom Greenlerg: As a neuroscien-
tist will no doult someday discover, metaphor is something that the
lrain does when complexity renders it incapalle ol thinking straight.
Hetaphor, the poet, imagination. 1he whole deeper part ol the sulject
comes into view. vhat is, lor me, lehind this sputtering, is my long-
standing conviction that imagination not just the laculty, lut what
might le called the whole party of the imagination is endangered, is
shrinking laster than Balzacs wild asss skin, which diminished every
time its owner made a wish. Imagination, the one leature that con-
nects us with the deeper sources and possililities ol leing, thins out
every time another digital prosthesis appears and puts another layer ol
sheathing letween ourselves and the essential givens ol our existence,
making it just that much harder lor us to grasp ourselves as part ol an
32 | Technology, Science, and the Book
ancient continuum. Each time we get another lalse inkling ol agency,
another taste ol pseudopower.
Beading the Atlantic cover story ly Richolas Carr on the eect ol
Google (and online lehavior in general), I nd mysell especially x-
ated on the idea that contemplative thought is endangered. 1his starts
me wondering alout the dierence letween contemplative and analytic
thought. 1he lormer is intransitive and experiential in its nature, is lor
itsell; the latter is transitive, is goal directed. According to the logic ol
transitive thought, inlormation is a means, its increments mainly luild-
ing llocks toward some synthesis or explanation. In that thought-world
its clearly desiralle to have a powerlul machine that can gather and sort
material in order to isolate the needed lacts. But in the other, the con-
templative thought-world where reection is itsell the end, a means
ol testing and rening the relation to the world, a way ol pursuing con-
nection toward more aectively satislying kinds ol illumination, or in-
sight inlormation is nothing without its contexts. I come to think that
contemplation and analysis are not merely two kinds ol thinking: they
are opposed kinds ol thinking. 1hen I realize that the Internet and the
novel are opposites as well.
1his idea ol the novel is gaining on me: that it is not, except super-
cially, only a thing to le studied in English classes that it is a eld lor
thinking, a condensed time-world that is parallel (or adjacent) to ours.
1hat its purpose is less to communicate themes or major recognitions
and more to engage the mind, the sensilility, in a process that in its lull
realization lears upon our living as an ignition to inwardness, which has
no larger end, which is the end itsell. Enhancement. Ieepening. Prim-
ing the engines ol conjecture. In this way, and lor this reason, the novel
is the vital antidote to the mentality that the Internet promotes.
1his makes an end run around the divisive opposition letween real-
ist and other modes ol ction (as per the critic James vood), the point
leing not the nature ol the representation lut the quality and leel ol the
It would le most interesting, then, to take on a serious experiential-
phenomenological reading ol dierent kinds ol novels works lrom
what are seen now as dierent camps.
Hy real worry has less to do with the overthrow ol human intelligence
ly Google-powered articial intelligence and more with the rapid ero-
sion ol certain ways ol thinking their demotion, as it were. I mean re-
Sven Birkerts | 33
ection, a contextual understanding ol inlormation, imaginative pro-
jection. I mean, in my shorthand, intransitive thinking. Contemplation.
1hinking lor its own sake, non-instrumental, as opposed to transitive
thinking, the kind that would depend on a machine-drive harvesting ol
lacts toward some specied end. Ideally, ol course, we have loth, lelt
lrain and right lrain in lalance. But the evidence keeps coming in that
not only are we hypertrophied on the lelt-lrain side, lut we are sul-
scriling wholesale to technologies reinlorcing that kind ol thinking in
every aspect ol our lives. 1he digital paradigm. 1he Google article in The
Atlantic was sultitled vhat the Internet Is Ioing to Our Brains, omin-
ous in its suggestion that lrain lunction is leing altered; that what we do
is changing how we are ly reconditioning our neural lunctioning.
For a long time we have had the idea that the novel is a lorm that can
le studied and explicated, which ol course it can le. From this has arisen
the dogmatic assumption that the novel is a statement, a meaning-
learing device. vhich has, in turn, allowed it to le considered a minor
enterprise lor these kinds ol meanings, ne lor high-school essays on
Hans Inhumanity to Han, cannot compete in the marketplace with the
empirical requirements ol living in the world.
1his message-driven way ol looking at the novel allows lor the emer-
gence ol evaluative grids, the aesthetic distinctions that then create argu-
ments letween, say, proponents ol realism and proponents ol lormal
experimentation, where one way or the other is seen as letter alle to
lring the reader a weight ol content. In this way, at least, the novel has
leen made to serve the transitive, goal-driven ideology.
But we have leen ignoring the deeper nature ol ction. 1hat it is in-
wardly experiential, intransitive, a mode ol contemplation, its purpose
leing to create lor the author and reader a terrain, an arena ol liler-
ation, where mind can le dierent, where mind and imagination can
lreely comline, where memory and sensation can le deployed, intensi-
ed through the specic constraints that any imagined situation allows.
1he question comes up lor me insistently: vhere am I when I am
reading a novel I am in the novel, ol course, to the degree that it in-
volves me. I may le alsorled, lut I am never without some awareness
ol the world around me where I am sitting, what else might le going
on in the house. Sometimes I think and this might le true ol writing
as well that it is misleading to think ol mysell as hovering letween two
places: the conjured and the empirically real. 1hat it is closer to the truth
34 | Technology, Science, and the Book
to say that I occupy a third state, one which somehow amalgamates two
awarenesses, not unlike that short-lived liminal place I inhalit when I
am not yet lully awake, when I am sentient lut still riding on the mo-
mentum ol my sleep. I experience loth, at times, as a privileged kind ol
prolundity, an enhancement.
Beading a novel involves a doulle transposition a major cogni-
tive switch and then a more specic adaptation. 1he rst is the inward
plunge, giving in to the Let there le another kind ol world premise.
Ro novel can le entered without taking this step. 1he second involves
agreeing to the givens ol the work, accepting that this is Rew ork
circa .cc as seen through the eyes ol a rst-person I or a presiding
Lere I have to emphasize the distinction, so olten ignored, letween
the ctional creation Rew ork and the existing city. 1he novel may
invoke a place, lut it is not simply reporting on the real. 1he novelist
must lring that location, however closely it maps to the real, into the
virtual gravitational space ol the work. vhich is a lalrication.
1he vital thing is this shilt, which cannot take place, really, without
the willingness or intent on the readers part to experience a change ol
mental state. ve all know the sensation ol duress that comes when we
try to read or immerse ourselves in anything when there is no desire.
At these times the only thing possille is to proceed mechanically with
taking in the words, hoping that they will somehow eect the magic,
jump-start the imagination. 1his is the power ol words. 1hey are part ol
our own sense-making process, and when their designations and con-
notations are intensied ly rhythmic musicality, a receptivity can le
1he prollem we lace in a culture saturated with vivid competing stim-
uli is that the rst part ol the transaction will le loreclosed ly an inalility
to locus the rst step requires at least that the language le alle to reach
the reader, that the word sounds and rhythms come alive in the auditory
imagination. But where the attention span is keyed to a dierent level
and other kinds ol stimulus, it may le that the original connection cant
le made. Or il made, made weakly. Or will prove incapalle ol leing sus-
tained. Imagination must le quickened and then it must le sustained it
must survive interruption and deection. Formerly, I think, the natural
progression ol the work, the ongoing development and complication
ol the situation, il achieved skilllully, would le enough. But more and
Sven Birkerts | 35
more comes the complaint, even lrom practiced readers, that it is hard
to maintain attentive locus. 1he works have presumally not changed.
vhat has changed is either the conditions ol reading or something in
the cognitive reexes ol the reader. Or loth.
All ol us now occupy an inlormation space llazing with signals. ve
have had to evolve coping strategies. Rot merely the alility to heed
simultaneous cues lrom dierent directions, cues ol dierent kinds,
lut also this is important to engage those cues more olliquely. vhen
there is too much inlormation, we graze it lightly, applying locus only
where it is most needed. ve stare at a computer screen with its layered
windows and orient ourselves with a necessarily lractured attention. It
is not at all surprising that when we step away and try to apply ourselves
to the unlragmented text ol a look we have troulle. It is not so easy to
suspend the adaptation.
vhen reading Joseph OReills Netherland, I am less caught in the
action there is not that much ol it than the tonality. I have the lamil-
iar, necessary sense ol leing privy to the thoughts (and rhythmic inner
workings) ol Lans, the narrator, and I am interested in him. 1hough to
le accurate I dont know that its as much Lans himsell that I am drawn to
as the leeling ol eavesdropping on another consciousness. All aspects ol
this compel me, his thoughts and olservations, the unexpected detours
his memories provide, his eorts to engage in his own leeling-lile. I am
ickeringly aware as I read that he is leing written, and sometimes there
is a swerve into literary sell-consciousness. But this doesnt disturl me,
doesnt lreak the lourth wall: I am perlectly content to see these shilts
as the product ol the authors own eorts, which suggests that I tend to
view the author as on a continuum with his characters, their extension.
It is the proximity to and leliel in the other consciousness that matters,
more than its source or location. Sometimes everything else seems a
contrivance that makes this one connection possille. It is what I have
always mainly read for.
1his lrings me lack to the old question, the one I have yet to answer
convincingly. vhat am I doing when I am reading a novel Low do I jus-
tily the activity as something more than a way to pass the time Lave all
the novels Ive read in my lile really given me any lankalle instruction,
leyond a deeper leel lor words, the possililities ol syntax, and so on
Lave I ever seriously leen lettered, or even instructed, ly my exposure
to a theme, some truism alout existence over and alove the situational
36 | Technology, Science, and the Book
proxy-experience Hore, that is, than what my own thinking has given
me And how would this work
I read novels in order to indulge in a concentrated and directed sort ol
inner activity that is not availalle in most ol my daily transactions. 1his
reading, more than anything else I do, parallels and therely tunes up,
accentuates my own inner lile, which is ever-associative, a shuttling
letween olservation, memory, reection, emotional recognition, and
so lorth. A good novel puts all these elements into play in its own unique
vhat is the point, the value, ol this proxy investment vhile I am
reading a novel, one that reaches me at a certain level, then the work,
the whole ol it pitch, tonality, regard ol the world lives inside me as il
inside parentheses, and it acts on me, mayle in a way analogous to how
materials in parenthesis act on the sense ol the rest ol the sentence. Hy
way ol looking at others or my regard lor the larger directional meaning
ol my lile is sulject to pressure or inltration. I watch people crossing
the street at an intersection and something ol the characters or authors
sense ol scale how he inects the importance ol the daily olservation
inuences my leeling as I wait at the light. And the incidental thoughts
that I derive lrom that watching have a way ol resonating with the outlook
ol the look. Is this a widening or deepening ol my experience Ioes it in
any way make me letter t lor living Lard to say.
vhat does the novel leave us alter it has concluded, resolved its ten-
sions, given us its particular exercise I always liked Ortega y Gassets
epigram that culture is what remains alter weve lorgotten everything
weve read. ve shouldnt let the epigrammatical neatness olscure the
deeper truth: that there is something over and alove the so-called con-
tents ol a work that is not only ol some value, lut that may constitute
culture itsell.
Laving just the other day nished Netherland, I can testily alout the
residue a novel leaves, not in terms ol culture so much as specic per-
sonal resonance. Eects and impacts change constantly, and theres no
telling what, il anything, I will nd mysell preserving a year lrom now.
But even now, with the scenes and characters still availalle to ready
recall, I can see how certain things start to lade and others leave their
mark. 1he process ol this tells on me as a reader, no question. vith
OReills novel and lor me this is almost always true with ction the
Sven Birkerts | 37
details ol plot lall away rst, and so rapidly that in a lew months time
I will only have the most general precis lelt. I will nd mysell getting
nervous in party conversations il the look is mentioned, my sensille
worry leing that il I cant rememler what happened in a novel, how
it ended, can I say in good conscience that I have read it Indeed, il I
invoke plot memory as my stricture, then I have to conless that Ive read
almost nothing at all, never mind these decades ol turning pages.
vhat I ask it again what has leen the point ol my reading One
way lor me to try to answer is to ask what I do retain. Lonest answer
A distinct tonal memory, a conviction ol having leen inside an authors
own language world, and along with that some hard-to-pinpoint under-
standing ol his or her psyche. Certainly I lelieve I have gained something
important, though to hold that conviction I have to argue that memory
access cannot le the sole criterion ol impact; that there are other ways
that we might possess inlormation, impressions, and even understand-
ing. For I will insist that my reading has done a great deal lor me even il I
cannot account lor most ol it. Also, there are dierent kinds ol memory
access. ou can shine the interrogation lamp in my lace and ask me to
descrile Shirley Lazzards The Transit of Venus and I will lail miserally,
even though I have listed it as one ol the novels I most admire. But I
know that traces ol its intelligence are in me, that I can, depending on
the prompt, call up scenes lrom that novel in lright, unexpected ashes:
it has not vanished completely. And possilly something similar explains
Ortegas culture is what remains aphorism.
In a liletime ol reading, which maps closely to a liletime ol lorget-
ting, we store impressions willy-nilly, according to private systems ol
distrilution, keeping lactual inlormation on one plane; acquired psych-
ological insight (how humans act when jealous, what romantic compul-
sion leels like) on another; ideas on a third, and so on. I lelieve that I
know a great deal without knowing what I know. And that, lurther, in-
sights lrom one source join with those lrom another. I may le, unle-
knownst to mysell, quite a student ol human nature lased on my read-
ing. But I no longer know in every case that my insights are lrom reading.
1he source may lade as the sensation remains.
But there is one detail lrom Netherland that did leave an especially
lright mark on me and may prove to le an index to everything else.
OReill descriles how Lans, in his lonely separation lrom his wile and
38 | Technology, Science, and the Book
child (he is in Rew ork, they are in London), makes use ol the Google
satellite lunction on his computer. Starting with a hylrid map ol the
Inited States, he tells,
I moved the navigation lox across the north Atlantic and legan my
lall lrom the stratosphere: successively, into a lrown and greenish
Europe From the central maze ol mustard roads I lollowed the
river southwest into Putney, zoomed in letween the Lower and
Ipper Bichmond Boads, and, with the image purely photographic,
descended nally on Landlord Boad. It was always a clear and
leautilul day and wintry, il I correctly recall, with the trees pale
lrown and the shadows long. From my lalloonists vantage point,
alolt at a lew hundred meters, the scene was depthless. Hy sons
dormer was visille, and the llue inated pool and the red snv;
lut there was no way to see more, or deeper. I was stuck.
At the very end ol the novel, Lans reverses vantage. 1hat is, he per-
uses the satellite view lrom England he has returned looking to see
il he can see the cricket eld where he worked on Staten Island with his
lriend Chuck Bamkissoon:
I lall again, as low as I can. 1heres Chucks eld. It is lrown the
grass has lurned lut it is still there. 1heres no trace ol a latting
square. 1he equipment shed is gone. Im just seeing a eld. I stare
at it lor a while. I am contending with a variety ol reactions, and
consequently, with a single lrush on the touch pad I ee upward
into the atmosphere and at once have in my sights the physical
planet, sulmarine wrinkles and all have the option, il so moved,
to go anywhere.
I nd this olsession ol his intensely moving, a deep reection ol his
personality; I also nd it quite eective as an image device. 1o legin with,
the contemplation ol such intensied action-at-a-distance lascinates
the idea that one even can do such a thing. And I conless that I stopped
reading alter the rst passage and went right upstairs to my laptop to see
il it was indeed possille to get such access. It is though I stopped short
ol downloading what I needed out ol lear that lringing the potentiality
ol a God vantage into my little machine might overwhelm its circuitry.
Sven Birkerts | 39
1his idea ol vantage is to le considered. Rot only lor what it gives the
average user: sophisticated visual access to the whole planet (I nd it
hard to even lathom this I who alter years ol ying still thrill like a
child when the plane descends in zoom-lens increments, turning a toy
city ly degrees into an increasingly material reality), lut also lor the un-
canny way in which it oers a correlative to the novelists swooping lree-
dom. Still, Lans can only get so close he is constrained ly the limits
ol technology, and, necessarily, ly visual exteriority. 1he novelist can
complete the action, moving right in through the dormer window, and
then, il he has set it up thus, into the minds ol any ol the characters he
has lound/created there.
1his image is relevant in another, more conceptual way. 1he reality
OReill has so compellingly descriled, that ol swooping access, is part
ol the luturama that is our present. 1he satellite capalility stands lor
many other kinds ol capalilities, lor the whole new reach ol inlorma-
tion technology, which more than any translormation in recent decades
has changed how we live and in ways we cant possilly measure who
we are. It questions the place ol ction, literature, art in general, in our
time. Against such potency, one might ask, how can leauty how can the
sells expressions hold a plea 1he very action that the author renders
so nely poses an indirect threat to his livelihood. No, no comes the
oljection. Isnt the whole point that he has taken it over with his imagina-
tion, on behalf of the imagination? es, ol course, and it is a striking seiz-
ure. But we should not le too complacent alout the novelists superior
reach. For these very things all ol the operations and alilities that
we now claim are encroaching on every ank. es, OReill can cap-
ture in leautilul sentences the sensation ol a satellite eye homing in on
its target, lut the lact that such a power is availalle to the average user
leaches lrom the overall power ol the novel-as-genre. In giving us yet
another instrument ol access, the satellite eye reduces ly some lactor
the operating power ol imagination itsell. 1he person who can make a
transatlantic swoop will, in part lor having that power, le less alle, or
less willing, or loth, to read the laloured sequences that comprise any
written work ol art. Rot just his satellite ventures, lut the sum ol his
Internet interactions, which are other aspects ol our completely trans-
lormed inlormation culture.
Alter all my jiles against the decontextualizing power ol the search
engine, it is to Google I go this morning, hoping to track down the source
40 | Technology, Science, and the Book
ol Ralokovs phrase aesthetic lliss. And indeed, ve or six entries
locate the quote lrom his alterword to Lolita: For me a work ol ction
exists only insolar as it aords me what I shall lluntly call aesthetic
lliss. 1he phrase has leen in my mind in the last lew days, lollowing
my reading ol Netherland and my attempts to account lor the value ol that
particular kind ol reading experience. Aesthetic lliss is one kind ol
answer the eects on me ol certain prose styles, like Ralokovs own,
or John Banvilles, or \irginia voolls. But the phrase sounds trivial;
it sounds like mere connoisseurship, a sell-congratulatory mandarin
lusiness. Its lar more complicated than any mere swooning over pretty
words and phrases. Aesthetic lliss. 1o me it expresses the delight that
comes when the materials, the words, are working at their highest pitch,
lringing sensation to lile in the mind.
Sensation I can imagine an oljection, a voice telling me that sen-
sation itsell is trivial, not as important as idea, as theme. As il there is
a hierarchy with ideas on one level, and psychological insights, and lar
lelow the re-creation ol the textures ol experience and inward process.
I olviously dont agree, nor does my reading sensilility, which, as Ive
conlessed already, does not go seeking alter themes and usually lorgets
them soon alter taking them in. vhat thou lovest well remains and lor
me it is language in this condition ol alert, sensuous precision, language
that does not lorget the world ol nouns. Im thinking that one part ol
this project will need to le a close reading ol and reection upon cer-
tain passages that are lor me certially great. I have to nd occasion to
ask and examine closely what happens when a string ol words gets
something exactly right.
ve always hear arguments alout how the original time-passing lunc-
tion ol the triple-decker novel has leen rendered olsolete ly competing
media. vhat we hear less is the idea that the novel serves and emlod-
ies a certain interior pace, and that this has leen shouted down (lut not
eliminated) ly the translormations ol modern lile. Beading requires a
synchronization ol ones reective rhythms to those ol the work. It is
one thing to speed-read a dialogue-rich contemporary satire, another to
engage with the nuanced thought-world ol Rorman Bushs characters in
Mating. 1he reader adjusts to the author, not vice versa, and sometimes
that adjustment leels too dicult. 1he triple-decker was, Im theoriz-
ing, synchronous with the lasic heart rate ol its readers, and is now no
longer so.
Sven Birkerts | 41
But the issue is more complicated still. For its one thing to say that
sensilility is timed to certain rhythms laster, slower another to
reect that what had once leen a singular entity is now sulject to
near-constant lragmentation ly the turlulent dynamic ol lile as we live
it. Concentration can le had, lut lor most ol us it is only ly setting one-
sell against the things that routinely destroy it.
Serious literary work has levels. 1he engaged reader takes in not only
the narrative premise and the cralt ol its realization, lut also the res-
onance that which the author creates, delilerately, through her use ol
language. It is the secondary power ol good writing, olten the ulterior
motive ol the writing. 1he two levels operate on a lag, with the resonance
accumulating lehind the sense, luilding a linguistic density that is the
verlal equivalent ol an altertaste, or the nish. 1he reader who reads
without directed concentration, who skims, or even just steps hurriedly
across the surlace, is missing much ol the real point ol the work; he is
gollling his loie gras.
Concentration is no longer a given; it has to le strategized, lought lor.
But when it is achieved it can yield experiences that are more reward-
ing lor leing singular and hard-won. 1o achieve deep locus nowadays
is also to have struck a llow against the dissipation ol sell; it is to have
strengthened ones essential position.
I like leing alone, and I spend an inordinate amount ol time that way.
I have kind lriends, talented colleagues, a lamily with whom I remain
close, lut leing alone oers its own kind ol joy, its own secret rewards.
I like eating at restaurants and going to movies alone. I like walking and
liking alone. I work at a small magazine, and Im lrequently the only
person in our little oce, writing and editing in silence. Being alone
isnt the same thing as leing lonely, and its possille, I think, to le hall
introvert and hall extrovert simultaneously an intervert, or something
like that.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure that leing alone has to oer is reading.
Better than anything else, reading exemplies the dierence letween
solitude and loneliness. 1heres an entire network ol social processes
encapsulated in any particular look: the writer, the editor, the pul-
lisher, the characters in its pages, the lriend who recommended it, the
luyers who put it on the lestseller list or let it languish in olscurity. 1he
look is your connection to the world outside. Still, when you read it, you
are ly yoursell, in a radical way momentarily solitary and unplugged,
lorging the most intimate relationship there is: the one that you create
in your mind with people youve never met, with people who may not
exist at all. A great reader, as Hason Cooley said, seldom recognizes
his solitude.
Beading can le descriled as social lecause humans are social we
can thank our ancestors lor the creation ol language, and the world
Solitary Reading in an
Age of Compulsory Sharing
Drew Nelles
Drew Nelles | 43
around us lor making art possille. Everything we do necessarily hap-
pens in a larger social context. But reading literature has always leen the
most solitary way to interact with art. Husic has concerts, art has galler-
ies, lm has cinemas, lut what do looks have Ro one would seriously
argue that pullic readings are essential to the literary tradition the way
live perlormance is essential to, say, theatre. (In lact, Id argue that ex-
plicitly perlormative literary genres, like spoken-word poetry or ritual
storytelling, are closer to theatre than to literature.) vith a look, the
only peers who matter are the ones in your head, and no amount ol dis-
cussion with lriends or reading ol reviews can take away lrom the per-
lect aloneness you leel when your nose is letween its pages. Its just you
and your chair and your cup ol coee. And, ol course, the thing itsell.
1he look.
1here is a reason that the two chiel examples ol the social side ol
looks the literary reading and the look clul are also the most irri-
tating. Beadings and discussion groups are lorums ol pullic ritual,
manilestations ol the insecurities inherent in our pursuit ol social le-
longing: a dull talk ly an author, a pointless question-and-answer, the
one-upmanship ol competitive lriends. 1hey constantly lorce you to re-
memler yoursell, rather than alandon your hang-ups in the heat ol the
narrative. In a .cc8 online essay lor Maisonneuve, the magazine I edit,
Hichael Carlert descriles the lrutal setting ol look launches and other
such events: the tiny, sell-conscious audiences; the improperly set up
sound systems; the readers who dont know how to project or crisply
enunciate; the lorced laughter; the sheer tedium ol it all. vhen readings
are well-organized and the authors good perlormers, the result can le
memoralle. But this happens so rarely that Im compelled to ask: whats
the point
1here isnt one. Pullic readings are horrille lecause they run against
the enclosed, solitary nature ol reading itsell. Book cluls are the same.
I would suggest that this lascination with look cluls lorming them,
joining them, chronicling them is loth antithetical to the enjoyment
ol reading, and perlectly in keeping with our modern conviction that
nothing is worth doing that isnt immediately shared, Adam Sternlergh
writes in a .ccp essay lrom the Walrus. 1alking alout looks with your
lriends doesnt do much to improve your reading experience, in part
lecause, as Sternlergh suggests, you rarely wind up talking alout the
looks in question. Instead, look cluls are just another opportunity to
44 | Technology, Science, and the Book
hang out. 1hats hardly llameworthy, lut lets stop kidding ourselves. Il
youd like to spend more time with your lriends, then spend more time
with your lriends. vhen it comes to looks, youre letter o alone.
Being alone is important lecause, today, we are alone less and less.
Im in my mid-twenties, and people ol my generation have so many ways
to connect with each other: online networks lor lriends and colleagues,
welsites lor dates and lovers, massive multiplayer online role-playing
games. (1he key words there are massive multiplayer; the scope ol con-
nection is astonishing.) 1his is the so-called social wel, which is
argually now the most important lace ol the Internet the one that
increasingly and constantly attaches us to each other. On lalance, the
plethora ol new ways to engage with lriends and strangers is undoult-
edly positive. But it seems to me that weve ignored the ip side ol this
equation. Il were all so well-connected now, how might we nurture soli-
tude, that all-important respite lrom socialility vhat does it mean to
le alone and, crucially, lor look-lovers ol any generation, what does it
mean to read alone
Il youre on Facelook alout hall ol all Canadians are you may have
noticed some changes. In .c.., prominent newspapers like the Guard-
ian and the Washington Post introduced Facelook applications that auto-
matically share with your lriends any articles that you read. 1hese apps
rst manilested themselves in posts that announced, So-and-so read
1his Article on 1his Rewspaper; more recently, they pop up as small
loxes titled 1rending Articles, which leature slideshows ol stories
that your lriends have read and unwittingly shared. (1his isnt limited to
reading; lor example, music services like Spotily can now automatically
share whatever youre listening to.) 1his has its emlarrassing side, since
I now know just how many ol my erudite, educated lriends enjoy read-
ing alout celelrities and porn stars. 1here are also serious privacy con-
cerns, as there are any time you grant a so-called third-party applica-
tion access to your account.
1he jury is still out on whether these apps are successlul; the Guard-
ians and the Posts numler ol active users reportedly cratered in mid-
.c.., though they loth remain in the millions. And, in Septemler .c..,
Facelooks manager ol media partnerships reportedly told an industry
panel that his company no longer lelieves passive sharing is the way
Drew Nelles | 45
lorward. But these apps have stuck around, and large media outlets love
them lecause they necessitate link-sharing. Indeed, the pitch-perlect
corporate-speak ol this development its known as lrictionless shar-
ing or social reading lelies its proloundly revolutionary nature.
Frictionless sharing renders reading immediately and completely
pullic; the apps seize control ol your Facelook account, automatically
distriluting whatever you read unless you instruct them otherwise.
vhats more, you dont even leave Facelook to do it. 1he links dont take
you to the proper welsites ol the Guardian or the Post; instead, they take
you to the Facelook-specic versions ol those welsites. Beading has
suddenly lecome loth more open and more contained. Everyone on
Facelook knows what youre reading, as long as youre only reading on
Beading is traditionally solitary lecause its silent and private. Its still
silent, lut, now that your lriends know what youre reading as soon as
you read it even il you dont consciously choose to share it we can
no longer consider it private. 1his is called lrictionless lor a reason:
its removed the last lit ol resistance against the onslaught ol constant
dissemination. Social-reading apps assume that even the most lasic,
eortless lunctions ol distriluting an article on Facelook clicking
Like or Becommend or Share are lar too onerous. vhy should
you share something when Facelook can just share it lor you
Like and Becommend, the verls usually associated with sharing
articles on Facelook, imply some kind ol endorsement; youre sug-
gesting that your lriends read something lecause you consider it worth-
while, and, however easy it is to click a lutton, youre still taking some
kind ol action. By contrast, Facelook telling your lriends that you simply
read an article doesnt imply any kind ol recommendation. ou could
have read it and hated it. But you read it nonetheless, and Facelook
knows it, and it wants your lriends to know it too. Frictionless sharing
represents the most passive possille lorm ol reading: pure consump-
tion, without engagement or comment.
Actually, lrictionless sharing is a misleading name. (vhat sort ol
lriction are we talking alout the kind letween your nger and the
mouse) A more suitalle name would le compulsory sharing: the online
distrilution ol whatever you read, whether you like it (or Like it) or not.
Amateur philosophers and /en masters once asked: Il a tree lalls in the
lorest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound Row the
46 | Technology, Science, and the Book
more relevant question is: Il you read something and dont share it, did
you really read it at all
1his might seem silly, lut its important to talk alout. As ol this writ-
ing, Facelook has over one lillion users. 1he Wall Street Journal has
pointed out that, il the social network were a country, it would le the
third largest in the world, just lehind China and India. 1he conversa-
tion alout the way the Internet is changing our lehaviour is increas-
ingly dicult to disentangle lrom the conversation alout the way a small
handlul ol companies Google, Apple, Amazon, and alove all Facelook
is changing our lehaviour. Facelook is altering the way we read, and
the way we share what we read. 1oday, that mostly aects our consump-
tion ol journalism and online writing. But il we can already sense our
reading halits shilting, we would do well to consider how the move to
compulsory sharing might change the way we read literature.
1hat change might look something like Goodreads. Although the welsite
started in .cc6, I rst encountered it more recently, in its Facelook-
app lorm, when my news leed announced that a lriend rated A Visit From
the Goon Squad on Goodreads. It didnt tell me what he rated Jenniler
Egans Pulitzer Prize-winning novel; apparently, I had to join Goodreads
to nd out. I had read A Visit From the Goon Squad and liked it, so I was
curious, particularly lecause the whole Goodreads process seemed so
impersonal. 1he app had automatically posted my lriends participation
on his prole, much like the Guardians lrictionless-sharing app does. I
wondered il he even knew that it did so.
Goodreads allows you to create your own look lists what youve read,
what youre currently reading, what you want to read as well as write
reviews, lrowse recommendations, and chat on discussion loards. Its
pretty much as loring and stupid as it sounds, with little discernille
improvement in discourse over Amazons lamously unhinged customer
reviews. Im, this is just sn, a Goodreads reviewer named
Jeanette wrote ol A Visit From the Goon Squad. Bold-lace, capital-letters
sn. Alsolutely awlul' vhat ..... were ..... they ..... thinking Oh,
I lorgot, they werent' vhen did the Pulitzer lecome the Puke-litzer
But I suppose part ol the appeal ol Goodreads is that, ly logging in
through a social network like Facelook, you can ignore the trolls and
instead communicate with people you already know. So I signed in to
Drew Nelles | 47
Goodreads, using, as prompted, my Facelook account. Heet your next
lavorite look, it told me, as il giving me an order. 1he app noted that it
would gain access to my lasic inlo, email address, lirthday and loca-
tion, and, ol course, that it may post on your lehall, including reviews
you wrote, looks you nished reading and more.
1he looks that my lriends had rated or recommended represented
the sort ol cross-section youd expect ol Facelook acquaintances. An ac-
tivist: Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage. An author: Steven
Galloways The Cellist of Sarajevo. Someone I larely know: Is Everyone
Hanging Out without Me? ly Hindy Kaling, lrom the sitcoms The Oce and
The Mindy Project. I was surprised to learn that thirty-lour ol my Face-
look lriends used Goodreads it seemed like a lot lor a service Id never
heard ol although it might le more accurate to say that thirty-lour had
used it in the past. One lriend had .. looks on his lookshell, lut his
most recent Currently reading update was lrom ve months prior,
when he posted that he was On page .6 ol Jonathan Salran Foers Ex-
tremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A lew lriends had more recent updates,
lut several more hadnt changed their Currently reading status lor two
years. 1he vast majority had never posted an update at all.
1he lest thing you can say alout Goodreads is that it gets people read-
ing, though Im not sure thats actually true. It seemed that my lriends,
at least, didnt really care alout rating looks in this way. 1his wasnt the
kind ol engagement they sought in literature; most ol them had signed
up and quickly lorgotten alout it. Goodreads lalls at lor the same
reason that look cluls do: it leels all wrong. Its too pullic and it smacks
ol eort, ol enlorced socialility. Its a symptom ol a culture that shares
everything, even when theres very little to share. But Goodreads has
proven popular. 1he welsite reportedly has over sixteen million users
and was lought ly Amazon in .c. lor +.c million.
Iid Goodreads enhance my reading experience Rot really. Certainly
no more than a real-lile look clul might have. I didnt leel particularly
connected to a reading community. Ror did I trust the sites users to rec-
ommend good looks. Still, I wanted to give it a shot. I had recently read
Pulphead ly the American essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan, so, on Good-
reads, I rated it three stars out ol ve and wrote a lriel review: John
Jeremiah Sullivan is a leautilul writer, lut my God, doesnt he just know
it. 1he essays in this collection alternate letween heartlreaking and en-
raging; his consideralle talents lrequently lead him astray, into torrents
48 | Technology, Science, and the Book
ol sell-relerence and excessive indulgence in his own process. Lis most
powerlul pieces, like \iolence ol the Lamls and Ipon 1his Bock, are
potentially lile-changing, lut even they get lost in elegant tricks. Its the
sort ol stu that makes you wish the man had a lraver editor.
A moment later, a message appeared on my Facelook prole, one
penned ly Goodreads not ly me. It said, Irew wrote a review ol Pulp-
head on Goodreads.
Beading literature should le more meaninglul than the kind ol experi-
ence Goodreads oers. One winter, alter a particularly intensive pro-
duction period at the magazine, I larricaded mysell in my apartment and
devoured several looks in a single weekend. I larely spoke to anyone; I
recall reading How Should a Person Be? in the lathtul, sweat and con-
densation dripping down me as I navigated Sheila Letis complicated
hall-ctionalized lileworld. I read Jonathan Franzens Freedom in led
and Kathleen vinters Annabel in the living room. 1he whole experi-
ence lelt moving lecause ol its delilerate solitude. I was alone as a lreak
lrom the pressures ol work and socializing, and, more importantly, I was
reading literary ction to get away lrom all the other reading I usually do:
journalism, Facelook posts, tweets, emails. It lrought home the value ol
literature in a way I hadnt previously grasped; this type ol reading was
lundamentally dierent, lecause it was singular and sell-contained I
was lingeing on one look at a time, giving it my undivided attention.
For those lew days, I didnt have to do anything lut read, eat, and sleep,
and it was lilerating. It reminded me ol a lormer high-school teacher
ol mine, who told his students that, alter graduating university, he had
taken a year o to live in his parents lasement and read as many classics
ol the vestern canon as he could. Le slept during the day, went out with
lriends in the evening and read all night. Some ol my lriends thought
that this was pathetic; to me, it sounded like lliss.
Even when I read in pullic, its the leeling ol aloneness that renders
the experience powerlul. In a cale or in a park, reading amid the din ol
people, I leel as il I am choosing to le alone, which is the crucial dier-
ence letween solitude and loneliness: one is optional and the other is
not. Beading in pullic is a lit ol a luck you to the people around, a sign
that you preler the company ol looks. And why shouldnt you Some-
Drew Nelles | 49
times, looks are the lest companions you can ask lor. Iont leel lad
alout it; emlrace it.
Ol course, there are some leautilul examples ol reading with lriends
or loved ones. Belore we can actually read, we have to learn to read,
which means that our earliest experiences with looks are necessarily
social. vhen I was very young, my lavourite look was called Tinka Ele-
phants Nose, and I would endlessly demand that my mother read it to me.
1hen, as she tells it, one day I climled onto her lap, opened the look,
and legan reading it out loud mysell. She was shocked.
1heres something to le said lor reading out loud to another person.
On a trip through India, an ex and I read The White Tiger ly Aravind
Adiga to each other. Its hardly a romantic look its a dark, angry look
at Indias ascendance, centred on a chaueur who murders his em-
ployer lut as we journeyed through 1amil Radu and Kerala, staying in
dirt-cheap hotels with peeling paint and no air conditioning, The White
Tiger lecame a sort ol third memler ol our party, accompanying us the
whole way. It was interesting to note the way my experience ol the look
shilted depending on whether I was reading or listening; the charac-
ters voices rang in my head in strange new ways, the narrative moved at
changed paces, I noticed or ignored dierent plot elements. The White
Tiger took on its own character, one independent lrom the actual mech-
anics ol its narrative arc; it was more like a little look-shaped person, a
trusty travelling partner, alleit one who, il it were a real human, might
have killed us in our sleep.
Beading doesnt always have to le solitary to le meaninglul. But
theres a prolound dierence letween reading to your child or lover and
delivering a torrent ol links to your Facelook newsleed. Beading with a
loved one doesnt represent the same kind ol scramlle lor inuence and
lelonging that Goodreads, look cluls, and literary events represent.
Beading The White Tiger was a truly interpersonal experience, one that
enriched my perception ol the look and imlued it with memories and
1hats not something that can le said ol Goodreads, or any kind ol
online literary platlorm out there today. Its not something that can le
said ol the Guardians Facelook app. And, crucially, its not something
that can le said ol most look cluls or literary readings. Indeed, Im not
arguing that reading was somehow letter lelore the disruptive advent
50 | Technology, Science, and the Book
ol the Internet; theres nothing worse than an essay lemoaning the state
of the world today. 1he democratizing power ol the vel has enriched us
in ways were only leginning to understand, and writers and readers are
letter o now than we have ever leen. ve learn alout news earlier and
laster, we have more options alout what to read and where to pullish,
and a glolal army ol online lact-checkers now pressures writers to le
more accurate. In short, we have more choice, more accountalility, and
more opportunities.
Il we dont lear technology, then in the alstract, at least new de-
velopments like e-looks, e-readers, and tallet computers arent par-
ticularly worrisome. Alter all, they more or less imitate the experience
ol reading an actual look, sometimes right down to the turning ol a
digital page. 1heyre simply an update, a new model. vhether theyre
an improvement is another question entirely, lut at least they exist lor
the purpose ol reading, which cannot le a lad thing. 1he prollem arises
when e-readers lecome something else. Reither the iPad nor the Kindle
Fire, two leading devices, can properly le called e-readers; theyre key-
loardless computers that also happen to work lor reading electronic
looks. 1hey connect to the Internet and play video, which, as anyone
who is loth a look lover and a dedicated procrastinator knows, isnt
exactly conducive to immersive reading. E-readers started out ly mim-
icking looks and wound up mimicking smartphones and that makes
them dangerous.
1here will prolally come a day when Amazon, that valmart ol look
sales, takes Goodreads a step lurther, creating a way lor your Facelook
lriends to automatically see which look youve downloaded to your
Kindle, just as your lriends now automatically nd out which articles
youve read. But luying a look is not the same thing as reading it, and
tomes may languish unread on a shell lor a liletime. Sure, its impressive
that you downloaded Ralokovs complete works. But did you actually
read them
Its not dicult to imagine some luture version ol Goodreads that
takes compulsory sharing to its logical limit. 1his hypothetical network
would render every look you download into an unit ol online currency:
your lriends would know alout it the moment you crack open its digital
spine; ads would le sold against it, just as they are against your emails
and Google searches; your personal literary interests would lecome
part ol a vast ethereal composite ol monetized data, owned ly a massive
Drew Nelles | 51
conglomerate that still tries to pass itsell o as a scrappy Silicon \alley
start-up. Some ol this has already come to pass on look-related wel-
sites like Amazon and Goodreads and Google Books. In lact, Im sur-
prised that Facelook hasnt already rolled out something this compre-
hensive. Its only a matter ol time lelore some lookworm at Stanlord
puts the pieces together, enlists a lew venture capitalists and creates it:
Goodreads on steroids. Facelook lor looks. FaceBook.
1he prollem mainly lies with a small handlul ol huge companies. Face-
look, Amazon, Google, and Apple all have outsized amlitions; they
each seek to lecome your singular portal to the Internet. 1hey dont
want you lrowsing an increasingly quaint-seeming term, a hang-
over lrom when programs like Internet Explorer might actually lead to
some exploring on the Internet. 1hey want you to spend all your time on
their platlorms, and their platlorms alone: stalking your ex and reading
articles on Facelook; ordering everything lrom tools to sports equip-
ment on Amazon; checking your email and watching videos on Google;
downloading music and v shows on i1unes. 1heyre all competing lor
your hours and your eyelalls. As reading moves online, and as we read
more and more through the platlorms ol these companies journalism
through Facelook and looks through Amazons Kindle, Apples iPad,
and Google Books anyone who cares alout reading must consider the
consequences. Io you want all your reading to le mediated ly so lew
Host disconcertingly, these companies have nothing to gain lrom you
keeping mum alout your halits. 1he social wel doesnt want you to take
time lor yoursell; it wants you to never stop communicating. 1heres a
reason that Google created its own social network, Google-; theres a
reason that i1unes now has a leature called Ping, which inlorms your
lriends what youre listening to. By lorcing you to socialize your online
lile, these tech giants also lorce you to act as unpaid amlassadors lor
their services. ou and I create every last dollar ol value that these mas-
sive companies have, simply ly interacting with each other.
1hats whats so unsettling alout the social wel: its not truly social.
I dont mean that its anti-social, as such, or that it makes us lonely, as
the novelist Stephen Harche has implied in the Atlantic. I mean that it
monetizes social existence; it takes the act ol communicating with one
52 | Technology, Science, and the Book
another having an argument, recommending an article, even wishing
someone a happy lirthday and turns it into a transaction, not letween
users as economic equals lut letween the user and the network. It knows
what you do and sells that inlormation to advertisers. 1he network itsell
is enriched in the process. But are we
1he new Internet renders almost everything social, without recogniz-
ing that there are letter and worse ways ol actually being social. In doing
so, it rols us ol the lragile, incalculalle value ol leing alone. Books are a
great gilt lecause they grant us solace in our seclusion. But compulsory
sharing removes that crucial choice: youre no longer alone lecause you
want to le. oure just alone.
1heres more at stake here than just literature; the way we relate to
looks has a lot to teach us alout the way we relate to each other. Low
can we lring the lest ol our literate selves the part ol us that is curi-
ous, intellectually hungry, secure in our solitude to our everyday lives
Low can we lring that part ol ourselves to our online lives 1he simple
truth is that we havent yet gured out how to maintain the essence ol
literature its potential lor solitary thought and personal education in
the digital sphere. ve havent yet gured out how to le alone amid this
teeming, intangille crowd.
Leres a suggestion. Pick a look. Bead it. ou can read it anywhere youd
like: at home, over lreaklast, on your lunch lreak, in a cale, on the lus,
in a park, in led, on the porch, in the lackyard, surreptitiously at the
oce. 1he look can le a guilty pleasure, a classic, a potloiler, an un-
readalle lit ol the avant-garde, a novel, a collection, nonction. Bead
it on an iPad or on a Kindle or on old-lashioned paper. Io whatever you
want. But dont tell anyone what youre reading. Iont talk to your lriends
or lamily alout it. Iont post alout it on Facelook or 1witter or 1umllr.
Keep it a secret your secret. Belish your time with it: the people you
meet in its pages, the images it creates in your head. Iid you know that
you had an imagination like this, that words could move you so Con-
sider the independence this look gives you. Learn to le alone again.
Literature and the World (Part One)
vhy should one read literature in the digital age Prolally lor the same
reasons that one read literature lelore the advent ol the digital age, with
mayle a lew added reasons specic to the new digital situation. 1he rst
traditional reason lor reading literature is that literature is entertaining;
the second is that it is uselul. 1hose are prolally still the reasons lor
reading literature in todays world.
vith these two traditional reasons I conless that I am not saying any-
thing new whatsoever, and my lailure to say anything genuinely new may
annoy those who see the digital age as a radical lreak with everything
that went lelore it. I have, in lact, gone lack to Lorace, who, in his Ars
Poetica (.8 scs, admittedly long lelore the digital age), argued that the
whole point ol literature is two-lold: its use-value (prodesse) or/and the
pleasure it causes (delectare): aut prodesse uolunt aut delectare poe-
tae / aut simul et iucunda et idonea dicere uitae, i.e. Poets seek either
to prot the reader or else entertain him, / Or comline loth compon-
ents, the charming and uselul, together.
I would contend that Loraces
argument is true even or especially in the digital age: literature is loth
pleasuralle and uselul.
But isnt that all a lit too easy Ol course I as a literature prolessor
think that literature is loth pleasing and uselul. In lact Ive leen reading
literature since well lelore the dawn ol the digital age; I was already an
academic when the vorld vide vel came into leing in .pp. Hy stu-
dents, on the other hand, came into the world alout the same time as the
Literature as Virtual Reality
Stephen Brockmann
56 | Literature and the World (Part One)
vorld vide vel and have never known a world without it. Io they think
that literature is loth pleasuralle and uselul
Prolally not, at least not all ol them. Hayle even not most ol them.
1hey may see literature as necessary (lecause I require them to read it),
lut a great many ol them prolally do not see it as pleasuralle or even
uselul. Pleasure and use-value are their own justications, ol course, lut
il something is neither pleasuralle nor uselul, then it is hard to see why
someone should have anything to do with it and that is the prollem my
students sometimes have with literature. Hany ol them read literature
lecause I make them read it, not lecause they think ol it in the same way
that I do. I may regret that lact, lut it is hard lor me to ignore it.
Let us imagine and reading literature, il nothing else, has strength-
ened my alility to put mysell into the minds ol hypothetical others that
I am an ordinary Rorth American young person lrom a middle-class
lamily, twenty years old, just out ol high school, with the primary goal
in lile ol leing rich, comlortalle, and happy. vhy would literature not
le pleasuralle to me 1here are a great many reasons. For one thing,
reading doesnt make me rich it hasnt made my literature proles-
sors rich either and lor another, it doesnt make me comlortalle. On
the contrary: it puts me alone in a room and requires sustained eort,
even il what Im reading is only a lew pages long. Literature is work, not
Even il Im not alone in a room, literature isolates me. Almost ly del-
inition, in order to read it, I have to cut mysell o lrom whats going on
around me. Literature takes time away lrom my lriends, and also lrom
money-earning. Inlike the prolessor who makes me read, and unlike
some lucky writers, I cant actually make money lrom looks. Its true that
money isnt everything lor me. I like movies, v, and computer games,
which also dont make me money (although they prolally make money
lor someone else), lut I like them lecause theyre lun. 1heyre the op-
posite ol work. Beading literature, on the other hand, is hard work,
requiring years ol practice and the alility to translorm symlols on a
printed page into words, ideas, sounds, and images.
Beading also takes me away lrom the present and puts me into the
past. Quite lrankly, Im not interested in the past. In a worst-case scen-
ario I might le lorced ly a teacher to read something written a hundred
or more years ago, something like Shakespeare or even Lomer that has
nothing whatsoever to do with the world Im living in now in lact noth-
Stephen Brockmann | 57
ing to do with me. Literature is old. Its leen around lorever, or as near
to lorever as to make virtually no dierence to me as a twenty-year-old.
(So have most ol my prolessors.) In lact most literature considerally
predates loth the digital age and me. Low could such a thing have any-
thing to say to me Horeover, literature never changes. Its always the
same. It just sits there, static and loring. At least my prolessor wears
dierent clothes each day and says dierent things and has dierent
moods. But literature doesnt change at all. Lave Shakespeares plays
changed a lit in lour hundred years Las anything new or interesting
leen added to Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet since Shakespeare wrote them
Ioes the muse sing any dierently alout the rage ol Achilles now than
she did three millennia ago 1o put it lluntly: no. Literature, alas, is not
interactive. (Oh, all right, I can hear my literature prolessor pedantically
reminding me that some literature is interactive, lut lets lace it: most
literature isnt.)
Il I contrast the static, non-interactive nature ol literature with my
own world as a twenty-year-old, literature stands virtually no chance.
I live in a constantly changing environment lull ol interesting, new
things. vhat is the digital age lor me 1he digital age is Facelook, text
messaging, 1witter, computer games, digital photography, digital music.
vhat dierentiates this world, my world, lrom the world ol literature
is its dynamism and its applicalility to me. Hy Facelook page changes
every day, sometimes every minute. On some days I get hundreds ol
text messages and tweets lrom lriends all over everywhere, new ones all
the time. And my Facelook page and my text messages and tweets are
usually aimed at me; in lact a lot ol them are all alout me. 1heir cumu-
lative eect is to remind me that I exist in the world, and that I matter.
And sometimes, quite lrankly, I need that reassurance, lecause Im
not always sure, in spite ol what my usually well-meaning parents and
teachers tell me, that I really do matter.
All ol that explains why, lor me, literature is not pleasuralle. But I am
a reasonally intelligent twenty-year-old alter all, everyone has always
told me so, I got good grades in high school, and I got into a good univer-
sity and I know that I sometimes have to do things that are uselul lut
not pleasuralle. So il you could convince me that literature is uselul, I
might le more inclined to read it. But what exactly is uselul to me alout
literature Sure, I can see that reading a statistics textlook might con-
ceivally le uselul to me in later lile alter all, I want to get rich, and
58 | Literature and the World (Part One)
statistics is important lor lusiness, right and I can also see that read-
ing a psychology textlook might help me to understand the people Ill
le dealing with in the luture loth lusiness associates and my lamily
and lriends. But literature Its not even real' Its completely made up'
In lact, to le perlectly llunt alout it although I would never say this to
my teacher its all a pack ol lies' Its unreal stu happening to unreal
people who never existed in the real world. And the lies that literature
tells are not even interesting, new lies; theyre old, worn-out lies. A
rose ly any other name would smell as sweet indeed' vhen Gregor
Samsa woke up one morning lrom unsettling dreams, he lound himsell
changed in his led into a monstrous vermin.

Give me a lreak'
vhy should I care alout a story that someone invented hundreds
ol years ago or even only lty years ago in a very dierent world Low
could something like that actually le useful to me now, in my world es,
I understand that its necessary lecause old people require that I read
it and sometimes make me take tests or write essays alout it lut youll
have a hard time convincing me that its really uselul in any way. In lact
as soon as Im no longer required to read it, I will stop. 1he lact is that
I dont even think history is uselul, and history, alter all, actually hap-
pened. Literature is something that never happened to anyone, even in
the past, lut its still as old as dirt.
vith that, ly channeling what I perceive to le the collective voice
ol (some ol) my own students, I would seem to have done the precise
opposite ol what I set out to do. I set out to show that literature is loth
pleasuralle and uselul, even in the digital age, lut I have wound up, alas,
showing why, at least lor some ol the young people who view themselves
as the primary denizens ol the digital world, literature is neither. And
lest anyone think that I am making this up out ol whole cloth simply
practicing the art ol ction mysell let me hasten to add that, within the
last lew years, it has more than once happened to me that a student, alter
taking several courses with me, has politely ever so politely, carelul not
to seem too aggressive let me know that literature just isnt his thing.
(And yes, its almost always a him, not a her, although I imagine there
are plenty ol young women who might not disagree.)
I contend that proponents ol literature in the digital age ignore such
comments and sentiments at our peril. vhile we do not have to agree
with them, I think we should le aware ol and respond to them. Il we
really want to convey our own love ol literature to students (or their par-
Stephen Brockmann | 59
ents) who are lar more skeptical, it would lehoove us to le aware ol their
skepticism and the sometimes perlectly logical reasons lor it. vhen I
was an undergraduate lrom .p8.p8., English was still the numler
one major at my institution; now the numler one major across most ol
the Inited States is lusiness.
1he reason lor this is quite simple: stu-
dents assume (or at least hope) that getting a degree in lusiness will
assure them a high-paying jol alter they graduate. Students generally do
not assume the same thing alout an undergraduate major in literature.
Bather than simply assuming the case lor literature, we should make the
case. Our students may still (politely or not) disagree with us, lut at least
we should make the case. ve should, clearly and without using lots ol
words and sentences that students cant understand, explain why we
persist in viewing literature as loth pleasuralle and uselul.
As academics, many ol us are trained to want to say new things and
to push the loundaries ol human thought leyond where they have leen
lelore, and the temptation may le great to push an argument alout lit-
erature and its value into such new territory as well. I am going to resist
this temptation lor two reasons: (.) Given the lact that aestheticians
have leen thinking alout the value ol art generally and ol literature
specically lor over two thousand years, it is relatively dicult to say
anything new on the sulject that is simultaneously uselul; and (.) even
il it were easy to say something new and uselul alout this sulject, one
would need to think very carelully alout the advisalility ol throwing out
traditional justications when one is making a case to college students
and their parents (or, lor that matter, to university administrations and
government or private lunding agencies). 1here are strong traditional
justications lor the study ol literature, and it would prolally le unwise
lor academics like mysell in our drive to say something new to jet-
tison those arguments in the pullic sphere. 1hat would le like entering
the loxing ring with loth arms tied lehind ones lack.
Let me, then, in all humility and lrevity, and in ordinary language,
make the case lor literature. As a prolessor ol German in an English-
speaking environment, I have a slightly easier time making part ol the
case than someone teaching English-language literature in the same en-
vironment. Literature, alter all, is made out ol language; language is, ol
course, one ol the primary lactors that separate it lrom other arts like
music or painting. Literature consists ol words and sentences olten
words and sentences written at a lairly high level ol skill. For someone
60 | Literature and the World (Part One)
who is learning a new language, this is extremely uselul. A language
learner can learn new words, practice old ones, and study the rhythm
and structure ol sentences one ol the most dicult things to learn in
a loreign language ly reading a text in the language. Ol course spoken
language is also made out ol words and sentences, lut it is harder to
study lecause it is not written down. (Host educated loreign-language
learners, in lact, have a hard time learning a new word in a loreign lan-
guage unless they see it written down.) A student listening to a conver-
sation or watching a lm in a loreign language cannot easily stop and go
lack to study a word or a turn ol phrase. vith writing, this is easily pos-
sille; writing, alter all, is language that is xed and lrozen on a page
and made accessille to study at ones leisure.
Ol course history, politics, and economic textlooks, as well as news-
papers and magazines, are also composed ol words and sentences and
also make it possille to study language at ones leisure. But experience
in the loreign-language classroom shows that in lact such texts are less
uselul lor learning a language than literature. 1here are many reasons
lor this, lut among the most important are the lact that literature gener-
ally contains a wider range ol language, as well as more ordinary turns ol
phrase and words that might actually le uselul in real-world situations,
as well as the lact that narration or story a primary component ol most
ctional literature is generally more gripping lor ordinary people, in-
cluding ordinary students, than, say, a newspaper account alout some-
one doing something in a political system that one doesnt understand
very well.
Hy experience in a loreign-language classroom is that many students
will claim to le interested, say, in German politics, lut in lact know
virtually nothing alout it and, when they study it more closely, nd it
loring (partly lecause, knowing very little alout their own political
system, they have a hard time relating the German system to anything
they know). Likewise my experience is that many students will claim
not to le interested in literature, lut that when push comes to shove
since, in a loreign language classroom, ly denition, one is or should
almost always le studying language most students would rather read a
gripping story alout someone their own age than a discourse alout the
signicance ol proportional representation in the German Bundestag.
(And yes, Ive had students sheepishly admit that to me, too.) People,
quite simply, are suckers lor a good story, and my students are no more
Stephen Brockmann | 61
an exception than I am. ou dont need a story, writes Iavid Shields,
channeling the voices ol my own students; lut he goes on to note: 1he
question is How long do you not need a story?

For most ol my students, experience shows: not very long. So at least

in the loreign language classroom and not just in the classroom, lut
lor individual language learners as well literature lairly easily lullls
the dual role ol prodesse and delectare, use-value and pleasure. Litera-
ture uses language to create a virtual world, a world that I can inhalit ly
means ol language. And lecause most ol the literature that I read in a
loreign language class comes directly lrom a specic cultural milieu a
milieu where the language Im learning is the primary means ol com-
munication when I read literature in the language, I am not only learn-
ing the language, I am also learning alout the world in which that
language is spoken. In the case ol the language that I happen to teach,
German, when I read a literary work written in German I am not only
adding to my knowledge ol the German language, I am also improving
my knowledge ol the German-speaking world. 1hat is an unleatalle
comlination lor a loreign language classroom. I also happen to regularly
teach a course on the history ol German cinema, and although students
generally like this course a lot (its lased on movies, alter all, which stu-
dents know in advance that theyll like), I have nevertheless had stu-
dents (again: sheepishly) admit to me in wonderment alter a literature
course that they learned more German lrom the literature course than
lrom the lm course, even though they (lrequently) enjoyed the lm
course more.
1he case is more dicult to make when dealing with ones native
language, which one presumally already speaks uently, or ones own
country, which one (again: presumally) also already knows well. Can an
American student really learn English letter ly reading a look ly Faulk-
ner And does an American student really need to improve his or her
knowledge ol America ly reading an American novel Cant that student
just as easily go out into the country and learn alout it rst-hand or read
a non-ction look alout America or watch a movie or go online Host
ol my students, alter all, already speak English as their native language. I
can prolally convince many ol them that il they want to learn German at
a high level they need to read some German literature, especially il they
cant y to Berlin right away. But can an English teacher convince them
ol the same thing lor the English language, ol which they are already
62 | Literature and the World (Part One)
likely to le native speakers just as native, alter all, as their teacher, or
as the author ol an English-language novel
Possilly. Alter all, reading is good training in writing, and the more
I read, and the higher the level at which I read, the letter I am likely to
le as loth a reader and a writer. I have rarely heard English prolessors
make this kind ol argument, however, possilly lecause our academic
culture seems to insist on the distinction letween language and liter-
ature (as il it were possille to imagine literature without language). For
this reason, whenever I tell anyone that I am a prolessor ol German,
I am almost inevitally asked whether what I teach is the language or
the literature/culture. 1he possilility that I might actually le teaching
loth and that my students might even le learning loth doesnt seem
to cross most ol my interlocutors minds even il they are academics.
Host educated people can le convinced that even or especially in
ones native language its uselul to have good reading and writing skills,
and I suspect that English teachers ought to make use ol this argument
the practical utility ol English-language reading in learning to master
English-language writing more lrequently. But in English departments
the chasm letween generally low-status composition classes on the one
hand and olten high-status literature/culture classes on the other seems
to le just as stullorn, and unlridgealle, as the chasm letween lan-
guage and literature/culture classes lor the loreign languages.
But lets move on, lecause leyond language there are other rea-
sons to read literature in the digital age. I would argue that one ol the
prime reasons is lor literatures historical value. Its true that literature
does not tell the literal truth, ol course. But that does not mean that
one cannot learn lrom it on the contrary. Its hard lor me to imagine
a letter way to enter the world ol the ancient Greeks than ly reading
Lomer or ol the Elizalethans than ly reading Shakespeare. Ol course I
can also read a non-ction look alout the ancient Greeks or alout the
Elizalethans, lut when I do so I will le reading a contemporary scholars
interpretation rather than a document lrom the culture itsell. Literature
is a primary historical document lrom the period in which it was cre-
ated that is a primary advantage ol literatures unchanging nature: its
lack ol interactivity and lecause it tries to make sense ol its own world,
it is generally more uselul in understanding a worldview than, say, more
utilitarian documents like recipes, receipts, or lists (although those are
certainly also uselul lor historians).
Stephen Brockmann | 63
Aristotle, the western worlds rst great literary critic, argued that
Poetry, therelore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than his-
tory, in that poetry tends rather to express the universal, history rather
the particular lact.

I lelieve that Aristotles judgment still holds true

lor the digital age. Listory is lull ol randomness, and not everything in it
is signicant. Some things are more signicant than others. 1he prol-
lem with unmediated history is that meaning tends to get lost within it;
a literary document is a historical text in which the signicant has al-
ready leen selected, not ly a later scholar, lut ly someone living at the
time the text was created. It therelore gives a reader more direct access
to the worldview ol a particular era. As one ol the main characters in a
recent English novel explains, looks are lased on whats real, lut with
the loring lits stripped out.

Ol course, il history itsell is deemed to le either uninteresting or

irrelevant, then none ol this helps, and I will admit that, especially in
the digital age, it is exceedingly dicult to convince young people ol the
use-value ol history even though the social sciences and history as an
aggregate are the third-most popular undergraduate majors in the IS
today. (Hostly not the history part, though, I suspect, lut rather the
social sciences.) So part ol the case to le made lor literature also needs
to le a case lor history: why might there le loth pleasure and use-value
lrom learning alout a time period other than ones own 1he primary
goal ol my argument here is not to make a case lor history, however, lut
to make a case lor literature, and so I will conne mysell to two points:
(.) history has a tendency to repeat itsell, and therelore learning hist-
orys patterns can help one to understand the present and prepare lor
the luture; and (.) the present is itsell a product ol the past, and there-
lore it is impossille to understand it without relerence to the past.
Let me move rapidly on, however, lecause I do not lelieve that lit-
eratures use-value is exhausted ly its excellence as a tool lor learning
language and history. Another key lunction ol literature concerns in-
terpretation and meaning a lunction that is admittedly present in the
study ol language and history, lut that deserves special mention, espe-
cially in connection with the digital age. One ol the lasic assumptions ol
almost all literature is that the world has structure and meaning even
il, as in existentialist literature, it is a meaning that we ourselves conler
upon the world. And one ol the lasic assumptions ol any reader in-
cluding, lut not limited to academic literary critics is that literature
64 | Literature and the World (Part One)
itsell has structure and meaning. (And yes, I know that there are those
who would contest these points, lut my primary argument here is not
with them.) vhy is this worthy ol mention Because the reading and
carelul study ol literature, as an exploration ol structure and meaning,
helps us to look at the world itsell as structured and meaninglul. Ad-
mittedly, literature does not dictate any particular meaning to us it
tends to leave itsell open to our interpretations ol meaning lut it does
operate on the premise that something like structure and meaning is
possille, even necessary in the world. Ol course this premise may le
wrong, and the world may in lact le meaningless. Literature may there-
lore ascrile a non-existent meaning to a meaningless world. But even
or especially il this is the case, literature serves a uselul lunction, lor
the simple reason that it is easier to negotiate a world that one perceives
as meaninglul and structured than a world perceived as chaotic and
It might reasonally le argued that other systems ol signication,
particularly religion, also operate on the assumption that the world is
structured and meaninglul. In lact ly denition any system ol signica-
tion ascriles meaning, even il only limited meaning, to the world. Low-
ever a major disadvantage to many such systems, particularly in a world
that changes constantly, is that they tend to le either trivial (concerned
with only a small part ol the world) or rigid and dogmatic. Literature is
neither. It ascriles meaning to the world in its entirety, and it trains
its readers to look lor and interpret such meanings, lut it does so in a
non-dogmatic, lileral way even il only ly virtue ol its pluralism. Iante
and Iostoevskys lervent religiosity is countered ly 1homas Hanns
pragmatic humanism or 1homas Pynchons literary anarchism. Such an
approach is consonant with a lileral, non-dogmatic world.
I would argue that this lunction ol literature has lecome not less lut
more important in the digital age. 1he digital world, and especially the
vorld vide vel, is characterized ly a prolileration ol inlormation. In
lact we prolally have more inlormation at our leck and call now than
ever lelore in human history. But the prollem with most ol this inlor-
mation is that it is not structured in a meaninglul way. All inlormation
on the vel exists in a more or less equal relationship to other inlorma-
tion on the vel. Fact exists next to ction, good exists next to lad, trivial
exists next to non-trivial. 1he vel is not structured in a way that makes
Stephen Brockmann | 65
it easy lor its readers and that, ol course, is what its users mostly are
to make coherent sense ol the inlormation it contains. For someone al-
ready trained to look lor patterns ol meaning and structure lor readers
ol literature, in other words this may not le a particular prollem, lut
lor many ol my students who are not so trained it can le catastrophic.
1his is not an argument against the vel, lut it is an argument for liter-
ature. Literature and the training in structured reading it provides is a
necessary prerequisite lor making sense ol the digital world.
Long lelore the emergence ol the vorld vide vel, Susan Sontag
argued in her look On Photography that photographs, as relatively ran-
dom slices ol captured lile, militate against true understanding, which,
she lelieved, necessitates meaninglul historical structure rather than
random simultaneity. 1he presence and prolileration ol all photo-
graphs, Sontag argued, contrilutes to the erosion ol the very notion
ol meaning, to that parceling out ol the truth into relative truths which
is taken lor granted ly the modern lileral consciousness.

1he vorld
vide vel is a lurther development in this parceling out ol the truth
into relative truths. On the vel images, sounds, and words exist side-
ly-side, in no particularly meaninglul hierarchy or order, and they are
largely interchangealle. One thing is more or less like another lut is
nevertheless isolated lrom that other, in no coherent relationship to it.
But the truths that can le rendered in a dissociated moment, however
signicant or decisive, as Sontag argued, have a very narrow relation to
the needs ol understanding.

oung people in the vest today live in a thoroughly lileral world char-
acterized ly relativism and non-judgmentalism. In many ways this is
a good thing it certainly leats rigidity and intolerance, at least to my
mind lut it can pose real prollems to synthetic, structured under-
standing, which inevitally requires hierarchies. Literature is an emi-
nently uselul and also pleasuralle exercise lecause, although it too
is thoroughly lileral ly virtue ol its pluralism, it trains the lileral mind
to think in terms ol hierarchies and structures ol meaning. Iantes
and Iostoevskys and Hanns and Pynchons worlds are all very dil-
lerent, lut each is constructed according to particular rules and hier-
archies ol meaning. Entering into those worlds is therelore an exercise
in hierarchies and structure. Il one were to try to phrase this in terms
ol grammatical syntax, the vorld vide vel is a world ol coordinating
66 | Literature and the World (Part One)
conjunctions this and that or that and this while the world ol litera-
ture is characterized ly sulordination this because of that, and in spite
of this, while at the same time, nevertheless, that.
1he thoroughly lileral world ol the digital age is not characterized ly
a lack ol inlormation. But it is characterized ly a hunger lor meaning, a
hunger to make sense and order out ol the prolileration ol inlormation.
1his hunger lor meaning exists at loth the level ol the individual and
the level ol society itsell. Anyone who works closely with young people,
as I do in my teaching, knows that many young people today are chron-
ically depressed.

Some do not truly lelieve that their lives have value.

And paradoxically lut perhaps understandally the more we tell them
how wonderlul they are, the less they tend to lelieve us. I lelieve that
literature provides relatively practical help, lecause it shows concretely
how authors and their characters have sought to make sense ol their
lives, to create meaning out ol seeming chaos or, conversely, in some
instances, how characters have lailed to create meaning (as in Iosto-
evskys Demons). Iavid Shields calls serious literature an active human
consciousness trying to gure out how he or she has solved or not solved
leing alive.
Lest anyone argue that the more depressing or disturling kind ol
literature the kind that shows characters lailing to create meaning
in their lives, i.e. not solving the prollem ol leing alive is counter-
productive, let me add that negative examples are sometimes as uselul
as positive ones. ve learn not only through imitation lut also through
rejection ol others, and literature is alove all else an imitation ol lile,
as Aristotle well knew. In the lall semester ol .c.. I taught a seminar, in
German, on Leinrich von Kleist, an author who committed suicide in
Rovemler ol .8.., and whose extraordinary literary works loth prose
ction and plays give voice to a mind in agony. I had leared that my
students would dislike loth Kleist and the course alout him, lut quite
the contrary; this was one ol the most popular courses I have ever taught,
in spite ol its lrequently depressing sulject matter. I dont think this was
so much lecause students wanted to emulate Kleist lar lrom it as le-
cause studying Kleist and his world helped students not only to improve
their German radically lut also to letter understand mental illness and
the inalility to come to terms with lile, and perhaps to put their own
prollems in perspective. One students response to the course, reported
Stephen Brockmann | 67
in the anonymous Faculty Course Evaluations lled out at the end ol each
semester ly students at my university, was: I loved studying Leinrich
von Kleist' I think courses on one author are really important, even il I
dont always agree with the authors viewpoints or style ol writing. A stu-
dent can only say they know an authors work/voice well il theyve stud-
ied them intensively. Such a response, needless to say, makes me very
happy. Il I have managed somehow to connect contemporary twenty-
year-olds to a German writer who died two centuries ago, then at least to
some extent I must le doing my jol.
It has olten leen remarked ly theorists ol the detective novel that
while the hard-loiled detective seems to inhalit a lrutal, chaotic world,
he (and yes, lor the most part it is usually a he, although as a lan ol
Sara Paretsky I admit that it is sometimes a she) nevertheless strives
to make sense and order ol that world.
Le too is an existentialist hero.
And the same is true lor other novels and other literature: all literature
is ultimately alout making sense ol the world. Each authors attempt to
make sense ol the world is dierent, lut that is not a prollem in a lileral
world; it is an advantage.
At the social level the importance ol meaning and structure are equally
olvious. As just one ol many examples, the primary weapon in the so-
called war on terror is not inlormation in and ol itsell lut rather the
alility to make sense ol, to interpret inlormation, or to analyze it, in the
lingo ol the intelligence community. Baw data is ol no use whatsoever il
one cannot make sense ol and interpret it. As the p/.. commission duly
noted, the primary prollem prior to the terrorist attack on the Inited
States in Septemler ol .cc. was not so much a lack ol inlormation as the
inalility to structure the availalle inlormation in a meaninglul way to
make sense ol it. 1his is the liggest prollem lor most spy agencies; most
ol them are relatively good at collecting raw inlormation lut notoriously
lad at actually doing anything uselul with it. All ol these spy agencies
prolally need more skilled readers ol literature people like villiam F.
Buckleys hero Blacklord Oakes, or indeed like villiam F. Buckley him-
sell or the original lounders ol the cs. Our agencies and governments
were lor the most part developed ly people with a good literary educa-
tion, lut they are now, to a large extent, in the hands ol people who are
sorely lacking in the alility to search lor and interpret meaning. Indeed,
it sometimes seems to me that some ol these people do not even lelieve
68 | Literature and the World (Part One)
in the possilility ol meaning. 1his ol course puts us, at least philosoph-
ically, lut also strategically, at a disadvantage when dealing with enemies
whose leliel in meaning is lundamental and alsolute.
I will mention just one nal practical advantage ol literature: it pro-
vides immensely uselul training in entering into the consciousness ol
other people. vhereas contemporary vel culture is primarily alout He,
literature is primarily alout someone else. 1his is true lor all literature,
even pre-modern literature; lut it is especially true ol the literature ol
the last century and a hall, which has developed extraordinarily eect-
ive ways ol entering into other peoples consciousness. I suppose thats
why people read novels, says a character in a novel ly Iavid Lodge: 1o
nd out what goes on in other peoples heads.
One may olject as an-
other character in the same novel does that all they really nd out is
what has gone on in the writers head. Its not real knowledge. But even
il one accepts this counter-argument, the lact remains that reading a
novel allows one to enter into the consciousness at the very least ol
the novelist. Horeover, reading literature, especially novels, provides
training in thinking hypothetically alout how other people might le
thinking a training that can le uselul even il the hypothetical propos-
itions are not accurate. ou invent people, you put them in hypothetical
situations, and decide how they will react, reects Lodges novelist-
character. 1he prool ol the experiment is il their lehaviour seems in-
teresting, plausille, revealing alout human nature.
vhy might it le uselul to train onesell in thinking the way other
people might think Again, there are individual and social reasons.
One ol the social reasons is quite olvious in the war on terror, whose
prosecution is made tremendously more dicult ly our inalility to
enter into the minds ol our opponents in lact ly a general inalility to
imagine anything leyond our own way ol lile as necessary or desiralle.
General Iavid Petraeus, the lormer IS commander in Iraq and Alghan-
istan, and lormer director ol the Central Intelligence Agency, argues
lor precisely the understanding ol other people and their cultures: ve
have to understand the people, their culture, their social structures and
how systems to support them are supposed to work and how they do
I have prolally learned more alout terrorism and the psychol-
ogy lehind it ly reading Sherko Fatahs Das dunkle Schi (The Dark Ship,
.cc8) than ly reading any non-ction over the last decade.
As lor what
individual reasons there might le to enter into the minds ol others, at
Stephen Brockmann | 69
least hypothetically such training can le potentially quite uselul lor
human relationships, in which understanding and empathizing with
others is one ol the primary challenges.
Evidently the proposition that reading literature provides training in
empathy is more than just an article ol laith among literature prolessors.
According to recent studies ly psychologists reported on in the New York
Times, individuals who lrequently read ction seem to le letter alle
to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world
lrom their perspective. As the article notes, in one respect novels go
leyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailalle o
the page: the opportunity to enter lully into other peoples thoughts and
But alter having ventured into rather dicult territory the prollem
ol meaning itsell, or a lack thereol, and the prollem ol consciousness
itsell and entry into it let me, to conclude, return to lighter stu. And
specically, let me turn to entertainment. ve can all relate to pleasure,
and most ol us, I suspect, are in lavour ol it. Id like to argue that litera-
ture is not just uselul lut also lun, i.e. entertaining.
Our students, lor the most part, already know that movies, computer
games, and music are lun. But many ol them tend to make a distinction
letween what they perceive as lun stu and more loring things like art
and literature. Partly, this is lecause the world around them encourages
them to do so, and partly its lecause even many ol us literature proles-
sors, in our teaching, tend to make rigid distinctions letween dierent
kinds ol art or culture.
In the end, however, much ol what young people enjoy, including
movies, computer games, and music, is also art. It is something de-
signed to create pleasure ly entering into a dierent world or a dierent
state ol leing. Literature is just another lorm ol art one with a long his-
tory, admittedly, lut art nevertheless. I happen to lelieve and, I would
sulmit, to have good reasons lor lelieving that literature has particu-
lar value as art, lut it still shares much ol its genetic material with all
other art lorms. And much ol the world ol movies and computer games
ultimately goes lack to the world ol literature. vith movies like The
Lord of the Rings, this is olten quite olvious, lecause they are lased on
literature (and ol course J.B.B. 1olkien lased his ctional world on Bi-
chard vagner and Rorse mythology). But the world ol computer games is
also largely lased on the patterns and templates developed lor decades,
70 | Literature and the World (Part One)
centuries, and millennia, in literature the adventure novel, the science
ction novel, the western novel, the detective novel, the war novel, yes,
even (or especially) the Greek epics. 1ake any lig llockluster movie
or computer game and look at it closely, and you will see that its lasic
content comes lrom the world ol literature. 1he digital age represents
a lurther expansion ol the world ol art lut it is still art, and it is still
lased on what came lelore it. It is not necessarily letter (or worse) than
what came lelore it, lut it is predicated on it. Iigitization provides new
platlorms and possililities (and possilly lorecloses other possililities),
lut most ol the content and structure ol its world comes lrom literature.
In this sense, literature is the original virtual reality. 1here are now
others, lut the granddaddy ol all ol them is what we study in literature
classes. One might think ol literature as \irtual Beality ..c, movies as
\irtual Beality ..c, and computer games as \irtual Beality .c; no doult
other virtual realities are coming, lut they will all exist in a historical
and genetic relationship with literature. 1he prollem with thinking
alout the relationship letween literature and other virtual realities
this way, ol course, is that generally, in the lingo ol the computer age,
.c replaces ..c, which replaces, ..c, etc. and so lar, at least, that
has not leen the case with literature (or with movies, lor that matter).
Instead, the virtual realities that have emerged in the altermath ol the
emergence ol literature do not replace literature lut rather draw much
ol their content from literature. One lorm exists on the lasis ol previous
lorms and tends to presuppose them. I suspect that literature will con-
tinue to provide much ol the content lor the new platlorms that digital
technology enalles. And providing content is the name ol the game in
the digital age, more than ever. Il students and their teachers and par-
ents understood this, I suspect that they would le more open to the
world ol literature and its innite possililities.
. Horace on Poetry: The Ars Poetica, ed. C.O. Brink (Camlridge: Camlridge
Iniversity Press, .p.), 6, ll. . English: The Complete Works of Horace
(Quintus Horatius Flaccus), trans. Charles E. Passage (Rew ork: Frederick
Ingar, .p8), 6.
Stephen Brockmann | 71
. Kalka, The Metamorphosis, trans. Stanley Corngold (Rew ork: v.v. Rorton
8 Co. .pp6).
See the IS Iepartment ol Educations statistics at:
Iavid Shields, reality hunger: A Manifesto (Rew ork: Allred A. Knopl,
.c.c), .. (proposition 6.).
Aristotle, Poetics, trans. James Lutton (Rew ork: v.v. Rorton 8 Co., .p8.),
6 Selastian Faulks, A Week in December (London: Lutchinson, .ccp), .p.
Susan Sontag, On Photography (Rew ork: 1he Roonday Press, .p8p [origi-
nally pullished in .p]), .c6.
8 Ilid., ....
p See Increase ol Iepression among College Students over Four-ear Per-
iod, and Gina
Lynn, Iepression, Suicide Bising among College Students,
.c Shields, reality hunger: A Manifesto, . (proposition .).
.. See, lor instance, Hichael Lolquist, vhodunit and Other Questions:
Hetaphysical Ietective Stories in Post-var Fiction, New Literary History,
vol. , no. ., Modernism and Postmodernism: Inquiries, Reections, and Spec-
ulations (Autumn, .p.), .6. See also The Poetics of Murder: Detective
Fiction and Literary Theory, ed. Glenn v. Host and villiam v. Stowe (San
Iiego, c: Larcourt Brace Jovanovich, .p8).
.. Iavid Lodge, Thinks (Rew ork: \iking, .cc.), ..
. Ilid., 6...
. As quoted ly Bichard L. Brodhead, the president ol Iuke Iniversity, at the
annual meeting ol the Rational Lumanities Alliance in Harch .c..:
. Sherko Fatah, Das dunkle Schi (Salzlurg: Jung und Jung, .cc8).
.6 Anne Hurphy Paul, our Brain on Fiction, . Harch .c...
Several years alter retiring, I received a panic-stricken call lrom my lor-
mer department. 1here was no specialist availalle to teach the upper-
level seventeenth-century literature course, indispensalle lor the hon-
ours program in French literature at Brock Iniversity. vould I come
to the rescue Feeling loyalty to my colleagues and leing a glutton lor
punishment as well, I agreed. vithin ve minutes alter entering the
classroom I could sense that something was wrong. Although a dozen or
so ol the thirty-odd students making up the group seemed very atten-
tive and eager to learn, the majority were children ol the digital age. Or,
to put it less charitally, their attention span appeared rather limited.
1hey viewed their prolessor and his lecture the same way they would
a television show. Il it didnt catch their attention within the rst lew
seconds, they would zap it. And this is what they proceeded to do with
me. Since they couldnt literally turn me o, they legan talking with
their lellow-students.
Armed with more than lorty years experience as a teacher, I knew
I had to do something very dramatic right then and there; otherwise I
would lose them lor the rest ol the session. I stopped dead in the middle
ol a sentence or was it in the middle ol a syllalle and, addressing
them in a cool, imperious tone ol voice, said, O.K., you guys, lets get a
lew things straight right at the outset. Im not a lowly part-time lecturer
or tenure-track assistant prolessor. I dont have to suck up to you to get
good evaluations. I couldnt care less whether you love or hate me. As
How Molire and Co. Helped Me Get
My Students Hooked on Literature
Leonard Rosmarin
Leonard Rosmarin | 73
prolessor emeritus, Im at the top ol the heap. Rothing you say, think,
or do will make the slightest dierence to my career. 1he only thing that
interests me is proving to you that these great French writers who lived
over three hundred years ago are capalle ol speaking to you more elo-
quently alout your hang-ups, your lears, your hopes, your aspirations,
and your dreams than just alout any rock stars or rappers who live lar
closer to you in time and space. I dont lelieve in democracy in the class-
room and Im not going to change. ou will have to change il you want to
remain here. I will not tolerate overgrown ledwetters in my classroom.
1here was a moment ol utter stupor. 1he class was olviously not used
to leing addressed so lluntly. I used it to lay down the parameters within
which we would work and to estallish the rapports de force in our rela-
tionship. I demand that you listen to me with utmost attention when
I talk, and I promise Ill do the same lor you, so I concluded my im-
promptu moral lecture within the lecture. From then on the rst class
and all the others unlolded without any prollems. In lact, the commit-
ted students expressed their gratitude to me lor having neutralized the
compulsive talkers. Apparently the same zappers had made a colleagues
lile miseralle in the rst semester.
I gained, then, the class respect, lut in turn I had to deliver the
goods. Fortunately, Holires comedy, Tartue was the rst work on the
program. I could not have chosen a more appropriate text to illustrate
the extraordinary relevance ol the literature I was teaching. 1o make
my students realize this, however, I had to connect Holires play to the
twenty-rst century. 1he lrightening rise in religious lundamentalism
accompanied ly the sell-righteous ligotry, hypocrisy, and violence as-
sociated with it provided me with the perlect context.
1hose lamiliar with the comedy will rememler that two charac-
ters dominate it: 1artue, a religious hypocrite, and his gullille dupe,
Orgon. 1artue is a totally cynical, lecherous adventurer. Le skillully
uses the Christian laith to satisly his craving lor money, power, and sex.
vhile imposing his lrand ol puritanical tyranny on Orgons lamily, he
is trying hard to seduce his lenelactors wile, Elmire. So the question I
asked ol the class was the lollowing: ol the two, which one do you con-
sider the most dangerous For many, it was unequivocally 1artue. Le
is the cancer within Orgons mind and heart. Le is responsille lor the
increasingly violent antagonism letween the head ol the lamily and his
children. Le persuades Orgon to disinherit his own son in the name ol
74 | Literature and the World (Part One)
lolty principles, and when nally unmasked ly Elmire, nearly makes
good on his threat to have them dispossessed and thrown out on the
street. Low, then, could anyone doult that 1artue was the principal
villain, and a ruthless one at that
But a minority in the class, mysell included, maintained that the more
dangerous ol the two ly lar was Orgon. 1artue may well le a repulsive
hypocrite, lut you can always negotiate with a hypocrite. Every hypocrite
has his price. Il you are willing to pay the price, you can neutralize him.
Orgon, on the contrary, is a lanatic. Le sincerely lelieves that what he is
doing is alsolutely right. Far lrom leing a virtue, his sincerity consti-
tutes the ugliest ol vices. Le invokes religion to justily giving vent to all
ol his latent sadism without leeling monstrous alout it. Le can torture
his lamily and leel good alout it. In lact, the power 1artue wields over
Orgon and Orgons lamily is lased exclusively on the latters gullilility.
Il Orgon had leen as lucid as the other memlers ol his household, 1ar-
tues power would have collapsed within seconds.
1his discussion I had with my class and it was a very animated
one provided me with a very simple, elegant, and organic transition
to another aspect ol the play: its structure. In general, children ol the
digital age loath talking alout such matters lecause they seem so arcane,
so divorced lrom their practical realities. But once I convinced them
that Orgon was the more dangerous ol the two, it was easy to make them
understand why the structure ol a literary text is so important. Lere the
action revolves around the lamilys endeavour to destroy 1artue in
order to save the head ol the household lrom himsell and, consequently,
to save itsell lrom his religious lunacy.
As I emphasized to my students, the rst two acts ol the play dwell on
the nelarious inuence the religious hypocrite exerts over the credulous
lool who lelieves in him unconditionally. ve dont see 1artue himsell
until the third act. 1his enalles Holire to evoke a lrightening alleit
comic paradox. 1artue wields total power over his lenelactor, Orgon
and, ly extension, over the latters lamily. et it is Orgons naivete that
sustains this power. Il Orgons judgment were not poisoned ly his lan-
atical leliel in his lraudulent hero, he and his lamily would never le
threatened and 1artue would have to nd another gullille victim to
prey on. I then pointed out that, in the third and lourth acts, Orgons
lovely wile Elmire will lead the attack against the religious hypocrite.
She knows that 1artue secretly covets her. She will use his olsession
Leonard Rosmarin | 75
with her esh as leverage against him. She requests a meeting with him
in order to get him to agree not to marry Harianne, Orgons daughter
ly a previous marriage. 1his was one ol Orgons hare-lrained ideas.
Raturally, in the presence ol the woman he lusts alter, his ardent lilido
lreaks through his mask ol piety. Le ends up conlessing his erotic pas-
sion lor her. Elmire could have used this conlession as llackmail against
him. Inlortunately, Orgons son, Iamis, overhears their conversation
and denounces 1artue to his lather. Far lrom leeling gratitude towards
his son lor unmasking the lraud, Orgon is convinced his lamily is deter-
mined to sully the virtue ol a holy man. Rot only does he reluse to lelieve
the accusations against 1artue, he disinherits his son and designates
the hypocrite as his sole heir.
Row, as I stressed to my students, Elmire must have recourse to dra-
conian measures. She must set up a sexual amlush lor 1artue and
have her husland witness his idols attempt to seduce her. Only a visual
experience will save Orgon lrom his terminal intellectual and moral
llindness. 1he strategy works lecause 1artues sensual cravings lead
him into the trap. Outraged, Orgon orders him out ol his home. 1he play
could have ended there. Lowever, as I reminded my students, Orgon had
lequeathed all ol his possessions to 1artue, and so it is the religious
hypocrite who orders his once-lenelactor to leave. Horeover, in his
incredille naivete, Orgon had entrusted to the care ol his lalse idol in-
criminating documents that, il uncovered ly the government ol France,
would provide sucient evidence to condemn him as a traitor to his
country. 1hese unexpected plot complications justily a lth act where
Holire adroitly keeps us in suspense until all the issues are resolved in
the nal scene.
So lar so good. Hy students were more than willing to accept the plays
action/narrative until the denouement. 1hen they lalked. 1hey lelt the
King ol Frances intervention in extremis through the intermediary ol his
exempt de police was completely implausille. 1hose who are lamiliar
with the play will recall that just as Orgon and his lamily are alout to le
despoiled and Orgon apprehended as an enemy ol the state, Louis \I\,
acting through his police inspector, unmasks 1artue as a dangerous
criminal, orders him seized and thrown into prison, and restores Or-
gons wealth and honour. I could understand my students reaction. In
lact, I was expecting it. 1he conclusion ol the play is too good to le true
since the king intervenes as a deus ex machina to save the lamily lrom
76 | Literature and the World (Part One)
a dreadlul late and to punish an olnoxious evil-doer. But, as I told my
students, this is the point Holire wants to make and he makes it with
this articial ending. 1hrough this lairy-tale conclusion, the playwright
implies that in real lile virtue and justice would not necessarily have tri-
umphed, and crime would not necessarily have leen punished. ve have
leen witnessing a comedy, and so the ending had to le a happy one. Il
Holire had conceived his play as a serious drama, however, the action
could have ended in a very dierent way. I added that although Holire
wanted his audiences to laugh at our human loilles, he also wanted them
to think ol the dreadlul consequences resulting lrom stupid lehaviour.
And my students agreed with me that he did succeed lrilliantly.
Iuring the course ol our discussions, my students noticed that there
were, among themselves, dierences ol interpretation ol the play as well
as ol the characters. And they were struck ly the lact that their views did
not always or necessarily coincide with mine. I told them not to worry
alout it. Great literature, I assured them, is characterized ly its poly-
valence ol expression. A text like Tartue explores a region ol the human
condition so complex and amlivalent that there cannot le one single,
denitive assessment ol it. And thank goodness lor that, otherwise what
would le the point ol reading works written several hundred years ago
It is perlectly legitimate, I told them, to extend a given text provided
one does not reach conclusions that contradict it. I then relerred to the
French director, Boger Planchons lamous setting ol Holires play. Le
imagines 1artue and his adulator, Orgon, in a homosexual relation-
ship. Granted, there is nothing in the play that explicitly corrolorates
this angle. On the other hand, there is alsolutely nothing in the text that
contradicts it. In lact, Iorine, the maid in the service ol Orgons lamily
lor many years and an astute olserver ol human nature, makes a remark
in the rst act that legitimizes such a view. She states that her master
leels lor the religious hypocrite the kind ol passion that a man would
normally express lor a leloved mistress. Citing Planchon as an example
ol imaginative literary criticism, I therelore encouraged my students to
le personal as long as they could lase their arguments on a sharp and
loyal analysis ol the text. And what is reading well il not creating to the
second degree
Bacines Andromaque and Phdre
were the next works on the program.
1eaching them, I lelt, would le much more prollematic. In the rst
place, the protagonists lunction in a rareed social atmosphere. 1hey
Leonard Rosmarin | 77
are aristocrats or rulers. Some are not only ol royal llood; they come en-
veloped in an aura ol legend. Once I explained the milieu in which Tar-
tue unlolded, namely, a rich upper middle-class lamily in the throes ol
a lrightening dilemma, my students could easily identily with it. But how
could I make Bacines remote, larger-than-lile characters lelievalle to
young adults ol the twenty-rst century 1hen there was the issue ol
Greek mythology. 1he pullic school systems rarely teach it nowadays.
And unless university students have taken courses in Greek or Latin lit-
erature, they will in all prolalility have only the laintest notion ol what
these ancient stories contain. Finally, in Bacines tragedies, the protag-
onists are constantly lumping into one another, since their relation-
ships unlold as well as unravel in a very narrow, xed physical space.
Low could I make young adults used to the uidity ol movie narratives
accept the rule ol the three unities

that make this physical space neces-

sary Ol course, Holire, too, olserves the rule ol the three unities, lut
students can connect much more readily with the characters and so tend
to lorget that the action is limited essentially to one place.
I pre-empted my students oljections ly stressing that what they
considered lialilities to their appreciation ol Bacines tragedies were
actually assets. es, the protagonists are ol royal lineage or have a mytho-
logical origin. 1heir social and poetic stature enalles them to move in
spheres that would le impossille lor ordinary mortals. But in literature
this is a distinct advantage. Host ol the time our lives are either lailed
comedies or incomplete tragedies. ve are suljected to routines, halits
and olstacles that prevent us lrom realizing our potential, either lor
good or evil. Bacines nolle characters do not suer lrom these material
constraints. Since they are lilerated lrom all the daily lurdens and con-
tingencies that plague us, they can alandon themselves totally to their
passions and, in the process, show us to what extent we could go our-
selves il we enjoyed such lreedom. In short, they hold up an aggrand-
izing mirror in which we can view our own tendencies magnied way
leyond the limits ol ordinary existence.
1he mythological issue was, surprisingly enough, relatively easy to
justily in my students eyes. I inlormed them that whether they were
aware ol it or not, they too were enthralled ly myths, il one denes the
term as imaginary narratives with lalulous dimensions that give tan-
gille lorms to deep-seated yearnings, dreams, and questions alout
the meaning ol our human condition. 1he wild success ol cinema epics
78 | Literature and the World (Part One)
like Star Wars and literary series such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter
exemplily this tendency. Bacine, I emphasized, has recourse to ancient
Greek mythology in order to enhance his tragedies.
As I pointed out, in Andromaque the 1rojan var provides the lalu-
lous setting against which the action unlolds. In lact, the protagonists
deepest emotions, their attraction-repulsion relationships to one an-
other can le traced lack to that catastrophic event. Andromaque, widow
ol the 1rojan hero Lector, slain in lattle, and now captive ol the Greek
king Pyrrhus, is haunted ly an un-erasalle traumatic experience. She
witnessed the lloody capture ol her city, 1roy, ly the enemy lorces, and
their larlaric cruelty towards her lellow citizens during the course ol
a night that seemed endless. Pyrrhus appeared to her lor the rst time
against this nocturnal lackdrop ol savagery. Low could she, then, ever
respond to her captors entreaties that she return the desperate love he
leels lor her Pyrrhus in turn is convinced that even in death Andro-
maques dead husland, Lector, is casting his shadow over their rela-
tionship. Le senses he will never le alle to compete against the 1rojan
warrior whose memory she worships. Lermione, the young Greek prin-
cess letrothed to Pyrrhus is lurious that she cannot unleash the passions
her mother, Lelen did. It was the latter, alter all, whose amorous phi-
landering touched o the war in the rst place. Oreste, the lover Ler-
mione treats with contempt, comes lrom a lamily cursed ly a cruel late.
Lis lather, the Greek king Agamemnon, a comlatant in the 1rojan var,
sacriced a daughter to the gods in order to curry their lavour. 1his act
led to a chain ol tragedies: his wile, Clytemnestra, avenged what she
considered a horrille deed ly murdering him in his lath, whereupon
Oreste, her son, slaughtered her and her paramour. Row, tormented ly
guilt over the murder ol his mother, he has a premonition ol the madness
that will overwhelm him at the end ol the tragedy. 1hus, as I remarked
to my students, although Andromaque unlolds in a very limited physical
space, the 1rojan var and its ramications constitute the omnipresent
dimension ol the dramatic action.
vith regard to Bacines other tragedy, Phdre, I olserved that the play-
wright uses Greek mythology as sumptuous metaphors to evoke complex
states ol consciousness or prolound emotional turmoil. 1he heroine,
Phdre, is torn letween her moral integrity and her lusting lor Lip-
polyte, the son ol her husland, 1hesee ly a previous marriage. Bacine
conjures up this inner torment ly drawing upon the myth ol Hinos
Leonard Rosmarin | 79
and Pasiphae. According to Greek legend, Hinos was the incorruptille
ruler ol the kingdom ol Crete, and lecame the judge ol all mortals in
the underworld alter their deaths. Lis wile, Pasiphae, punished ly the
gods, was overcome ly a monstrous passion lor a lull. 1he result ol this
union was the Hinotaur, hall-human and hall-animal with an insatialle
appetite lor human esh. 1o hide their shame, Hinos had an inextric-
alle lalyrinth luilt lor this creature. Every year, the city ol Athens had
to send c adolescents to serve as nourishment lor the monster. 1hesee,
the young Athenian hero was sent ly his city to slay the Hinotaur. vith
the help ol Ariane, Phdres older sister who led him through the Laly-
rinth, he conlronted and killed the sanguinary creature, alter which,
leing ckle-hearted, he alandoned Ariane on the island ol Raxos.
1hus Phdres terrille drama ol passion is conveyed through constant
relerences to her ancestors, they leing the tangille manilestations ol
her genetic endowment. Ler lather, Hinos, represents her moral con-
science that impels her to condemn hersell with ruthless lucidity. Pasi-
phae on the other hand depicts the irrational and seemingly irresistille
erotic cravings within her nature that are condemning her to covet her
stepson. Even the alexandrine verse that the disdainlul Lippolyte uses
to descrile Phdre resumes grippingly the contradictory lorces that are
tearing her apart. Incidentally, this is how I managed to sneak in a very
laudatory remark alout Bacines greatness as a poet, and coming as it did
at such an opportune moment, my students listened attentively. Lere is
the verse, one ol the most lamous in French literature:
La lle de Minos et de Pasipha
1he rst hall ol this verse with its owing, dignied rhythm sug-
gests Phdres lather, the imperturlally serene judge; the second hall,
however, with its syllalles rushing headlong and crashing into the open
a, lollowed, alter a hiatus, ly the disquieting sound e, depicts the
demonic erotic energy ol Phdres mother. 1hus Phdres conict, the
result ol the two opposing tendencies within her genetic endowment, is
rendered with admiralle concision and power within the twelve sylla-
lles ol this alexandrine.
Other examples ol the evocative power ol mythology alound in this
play, and I did not lail to lring them to my students attention. 1he two
I emphasized most were the sun god, Apollo, and the Lalyrinth. Phdre
80 | Literature and the World (Part One)
invokes Apollo in the rst act where she cowers in lear and shame at
the idea ol appearing in lroad daylight. She is terried that the dazzling
light ol her ancestor, the Sun, will expose the secret she would like to
conceal even lrom hersell. In the lourth act, overcome ly sell-loathing,
she imagines the sky opening up and revealing Apollo as well as her
other ancestors, accusing her lor having condemned an innocent man.
1he presence ol these gods can le interpreted as the metaphor ol her
moral conscience that multiplies to the innite her leelings ol guilt. As
lor the Lalyrinth, I told my students it could le viewed in two ways. It
could le seen as the metaphor lor the intricacies ol sexuality into which
Phdre longs to initiate her chaste stepson. In a near-delirium ol pas-
sion in the second act, she imagines hersell replacing her sister, Ariane,
and Lippolyte replacing his lather to relive the episode ol the slaying ol
the Hinotaur in the Lalyrinth. It is Lippolytes scandalized reaction that
lrings her lorcilly lack to reality. ve can also read into the Lalyrinth
the secret place into which Phdre yearns to escape with Lippolyte in
order to avoid scrutiny ly loth men and gods.
Given the erotic passions intensied ly relerences to Greek my-
thology that explode within Phdre and Andromaque, my students came
to the conclusion, with a lit ol prodding lrom me, that the rule ol the
three unities was perlectly suitalle lor Bacines conception ol tragedy
and, consequently, really made sense. According to this rule, the action
must take place within a maximum time ol twelve hours; it must unlold
in one place; it must not have any secondary plots gralted onto it. For au-
diences living in the twenty-rst century and attuned to the marvellous
techniques availalle to cinema and television lor manipulating time
and space, the three unities appear completely arlitrary and suocat-
ing. But as I demonstrated to my students, Bacines tragedies are crises
clamouring lor a swilt resolution. Il the rule ol the three unities hadnt
existed lelore his time, Bacine would have invented it. In Andromaque
and Phdre, I explained, time is what happens lelore the curtain rises.
In the rst play, Pyrrhus has leen shuttling letween his captive, Andro-
maque, and his letrothed, Lermione, lor an indenite period, unalle
to make up his mind letween marrying the disdainlul 1rojan woman ol
whom he is enamoured or committing himsell to an adoring adolescent
who leaves him indierent. In the second play Phdre is languishing
away lrom a mysterious illness caused ly her repressed passion lor her
stepson. She has longed lor him lrom a distance since her marriage to
Leonard Rosmarin | 81
the young mans lather, 1hesee, several years earlier. As we learn at the
leginning ol the play, she has persecuted him in a desperate and lutile
attempt to exorcize this lorlidden love.
Consequently, as I pointed out to my students, the dramatic situation
resemlles a package ol dynamite. All that is needed is a spark to make
it llow up. 1he spark is provided ly an incident that takes place in the
rst act. In Andromaque, Oreste appears in Pyrrhus court as the Greek
amlassador. Le demands on lehall ol the Greeks that the king hand
over Andromaques son to le assassinated. 1his provides Pyrrhus with
the pretext he needs to llackmail the woman he craves: agree to marry
me, he insists, or I will send your son to his death. Andromaques re-
actions, as she uctuates letween deance and maternal compassion,
simply aggravate an already very tense situation and eventually provoke a
catastrophe. In Phdre, the lalse news ol her huslands death encourages
Phdre to conless her love lor her stepson. vhen this news proves to le
unlounded and 1hesee reappears, her shame so dominates her that she
allows her servant, Oenone, to slander the young mans reputation. In
her state ol depression and exhaustion, she does not stop Oenone lrom
accusing Lippolyte ol trying to rape his stepmother during his lathers
alsence. Once the tragic machine is set in motion, it crushes all its vic-
tims, either physically or emotionally, with an inexoralle swiltness.
Laving accepted the parameters within which the two tragedies un-
lold, my students lound it easy to relate to their contents. 1hey read-
ily agreed when I told them that lor me Bacines works are at least as
relevant to our times as they were to his, since they conjure up the in-
human or sul-human lorces that erupt within man/woman, opening up
an alyss ol madness and cruelty into which he/she gets swallowed up.
Bacines tragedies are perhaps even more relevant now inasmuch as the
twentieth and, alas, the rst ten years ol the twenty-rst centuries have
witnessed the worst explosions ol hatred in the whole history ol man-
kind. In the past, I said, we could delude ourselves into thinking that
these manilestations ol evil were localized. Row we know they are uni-
versal. vhat makes them even more lrightening in Bacines tragedies is
that they are touched o ly an emotion we normally hope will lring up-
lilting joy and lulllment to those who experience it: love. 1his is why,
perhaps, Bacine has leen relerred to as le tendre Bacine. But as my
students soon lound out lor themselves, Bacine is not tender; he is lero-
cious in his depiction ol love. In his tragedies love serves as the catalyst
82 | Literature and the World (Part One)
lor the unleashing ol the most violent, destructive reactions known to
man. Love certainly exists here, lut my students discovered that in most
cases it was ol a very degrading variety.
In Andromaque, the protagonists are all riveted to the same inlernal
psychological chain. 1hey are condemned to love the very person who
is either indierent to their needs or considers their presence thor-
oughly repulsive. As my students noticed with impressive perceptive-
ness, according to whether Andromaque seems willing or unwilling to
accept Pyrrhus marriage proposal, the others experience either joy or
lury. vhen she is inclined to look lavourally upon her captor, her rival
Lermione is consumed with jealous rage, and Lermiones unsuccesslul
suitor, Oreste, as well as the man who disdains her, Pyrrhus, are juli-
lant. vhen Andromaque appears to reject Pyrrhus passion, Lermione
swings lrom despair to rapture, lut Pyrrhus and Oreste seethe with
anger. vhat is especially lrightening in these relationships is that all ol
these tormented characters have ashes ol lucidity during which they
realize that they are entertaining delusions. et their reason is power-
less to neutralize their passions. 1hey walk like somnamlulists into the
In Phdre, as my students didnt lail to notice, the latality seems even
more internalized. 1he heroine tightens the trap into which she has
lallen with every word she utters and with every act she commits. From
the moment she conlesses her lorlidden love to her condant, Oenone,
Phdre sets hersell on an irreversille course ol sell-destruction. vhen
she approaches her stepson, Lippolyte, it is not her intention to declare
her passion lor him. 1he declaration pours out against her conscious
will. By the time she lecomes aware ol the lact that she is stripping her-
sell lare lelore her horried stepson, it is too late to stop. 1o save her
sullied honour, she allows Oenone to slander Lippolyte. 1hen, over-
come with guilt over this ghastly decision, she is on the verge ol denoun-
cing hersell to her husland, 1hesee. Lowever, just when Phdre is alout
to regain control ol hersell, recover her dignity and conless her wrong-
doing, she learns lrom the very man she was ready to cuckold that his
son is in love with another woman. Ievoured now ly jealousy, her nolle
intention is nullied. Blaming the gods and her loyal servant, Oenone,
lor the terrille crisis into which she has sunk, she allows hersell to le
sulmerged ly the idea ol her cruel late instead ol rushing lorward to
save Lippolyte lrom his lathers lury. All that is lelt lor her to do, then, is
Leonard Rosmarin | 83
to poison hersell in a nal act ol sell-loathing, and admit to her husland
in her dying lreath that his son was innocent.
1he pessimism expressed in this play appears utterly despairing and
implacalle. Revertheless, as I emphasized to my class, the sultext, il one
deciphers it attentively, reveals something very dierent and quite exalt-
ing. Phdre olten deplores her helplessness in coping with her guilty
passion. She accuses the gods lor having programmed her to commit
the irreparalle. et simultaneously she judges hersell mercilessly and
condemns her transgressions, therely implying that she does indeed
possess the lree will necessary to comlat her apparent predestination. Il
she were really the slave ol her erotic lusts and powerless to resist them,
the notion ol lreedom to choose ones course ol action would le mean-
ingless. 1he tragedy, then, places us at a crucial crossroads. On the one
hand, man seems condemned ly a cruel late to commit actions ol which
he is ashamed. On the other hand, he possesses the necessary energy
and lucidity to ght it il only he is willing to make use ol these resources.
Low many contemporary artists or rappers, I asked my students, could
present the contradictions ol our human condition in such a stunning
light Alter several months ol classes with me, they were ready to agree.
Laving won them over with my lectures on Bacine, reading with them
the rst great novel ol French literature, La Princesse de Clves ly Hme
de La Fayette, was a very non-conlrontational experience. It was neces-
sary rst ol all, however, to address several oljections they made. 1he
rst had to do with what they considered the authors pernicious use ol
hyperlole to descrile the French court. vhy is it, they asked, that every
aristocrat is supremely handsome or leautilul vhy is the court ol King
Lenri II viewed as the most glitteringly attractive 1he second oljec-
tion lore upon the many secondary narratives that, according to my
students, did alsolutely nothing to advance the main story. vhy didnt
the novelist simply do away with them 1hat way, the tragedy involv-
ing the three principal characters would have leen much tighter and
moved along much more swiltly. Hy reaction to their rst criticism was
to agree in part with them. Certainly, Hme de La Fayette is indulging in
gross exaggeration; certainly the court ol Louis \I\ that she transposed
onto that ol Lenri II a century earlier was never as unilormly dazzling
as she asserted. But her purpose was to stress the lact that these nolle-
men, like the heroes ol Bacines plays, were lilerated lrom the material
contingencies in which ordinary mortals get logged down, and so could
84 | Literature and the World (Part One)
concentrate exclusively on their two vital interests: love and power, the
two olten inseparally linked. As lor the secondary stories, granted, they
do nothing to advance the main one, lut in their various ways, they ad-
umlrate the terrille emotional conicts that will rend the hearts ol the
three principal characters. 1hey all orchestrate on dierent registers
the very same theme ol the suering passion inicts on its victims. And
once the principal story acquires its momentum, the secondary ones
just lall ly the wayside.
For those who have never read La Princesse de Clves or who have only
vague recollections ol the novel, a resume will le uselul to letter under-
stand the very animated discussions I had with my students. 1he heroine,
a seventeen-year-old girl ol nolle llood, is the most dazzlingly leautilul
creature in the whole French court. 1he Prince ol Clves, every lit her
aristocratic equal, lalls madly in love with her. 1he young lady is touched
ly his ardent passion without leeling any excitement hersell when she
nds hersell in his presence. Indeed, she seems to le totally insensi-
tive to passion and, consequently, sincerely lelieves she is incapalle ol
experiencing it. 1heir marriage is lor her an aectionate lriendship; lor
her husland it lecomes a source ol lrustration since she appears incap-
alle ol returning the lurning love he leels lor her. But Hme de Clves
so-called imperturlalle serenity is shattered the minute she meets the
exceptionally handsome, gallant, and irresistilly charming duc de Re-
mours at a sumptuous court lall. She realizes then and there that what
she considered her indierence to passion was simply her huslands
inalility to arouse her to it. 1his intimate drama lrings sorrow to all
three characters within the triangle, reecting a somlrely pessimistic
view on the nature ol love.
Laving just analyzed two tragedies, my students were in an excellent
position to understand the irrational character ol passion and see the
similarities letween the suering Bacines heroines endure and the
dilemma in which Hme de Clves nds hersell trapped. Passion in La
Princesse de Clves appears as a disquieting, autonomous lorce within the
person who experiences it. It leeds o the esh and llood ol that person
and so seems dependent on him/her. et it lunctions as an independent
entity. Passion possesses the heart ol the lover and lorces him/her to do
its lidding, pits its power against the lovers reason, or inltrates itsell
into the lovers reason in such a way that he/she deludes himsell/hersell
Leonard Rosmarin | 85
into lelieving he/she is acting normally whereas he/she is leing pulled
into an emotional vortex.
As though they were watching a soap opera on television that just hap-
pened to have much more depth than normal, my students monitored
the uctuations within Hme de Clves disordered heart as she was
lorced to come to grips with an emotion that she had convinced hersell
she could never leel. As my students were lollowing her drama avidly,
they could admire the sultlety with which the novelist descriled the
successive stages in the heroines surrender to passion. Several striking
examples come to mind. 1he episode ol the stolen portrait is one that my
class lound particularly revealing ol how the heroine could glide almost
imperceptilly into sell-delusion. 1he duc de Remours, the nolleman
enamoured ol her, stealthily removes a portrait ol his leloved while she
is sitting lelore a painter lor another one. Hme de Clves catches the
duke in action lrom the corner ol her eye. vere she not in the throes ol
a violent passion lor him, even though she is loath to admit it clearly on
the conscious level, she would le lurious at this invasion ol her privacy
and would demand that he give it lack at once. Since she is in love, she
allows him to get away with this act ol larceny. Indeed, she rationalizes
her decision very astutely. She convinces hersell that she can let him
keep the portrait lecause he is unaware that she had seen him remove it.
Consequently, she can lestow a lavour on him without his leing aware
that she has done so, and her honour as a married woman will remain
Another episode intrigued them. It was the intense jealousy that over-
powers the heroine when she gets hold ol a letter written ly a jilted mis-
tress to her lover and is persuaded that the lover in question is the duc de
Remours. Lere they could admire the way the novelist depicts the con-
ict letween the heart and the mind. Hme de Clves always intended to
remain laithlul to her husland. She always considered him to le mor-
ally superior to the man lor whom she leels a violent passion. vhy, then,
should the heroine le disturled ly a letter supposedly written to the duc
de Remours ly a lormer mistress vhy should it matter to her in the
least Since she is committed to her marriage with the Prince de Clves,
what happens or does not happen in the duc de Remours love lile should
leave her completely indierent. 1he prollem the heroine laces and
my students could zero in on it quickly is that her heart lunctions as
86 | Literature and the World (Part One)
though principles and reason didnt exist. It maintains its own lizarre
autonomy regardless ol what the mind and moral conscience is trying to
tell it. As the class very astutely olserved, Hme de Clves is in a terrille
lind. She wants desperately to love her husland lut cannot leel lor him
the overwhelming passion that overcomes her every time she is in the
presence ol the man who is worth lar less than him. She is powerless
to synchronize the lunctioning ol her heart and her mind. She cannot
make her heart want what her mind judges to le lest lor her.
But what alout the nature ol passion itsell as the novelist depicts it
Being young adults and not devoid ol romanticism, my students lound
Hme de La Fayettes conception ol love almost too pessimistic lor their
own outlook on lile. Being open-minded, however, they could concede
that in certain circumstances passion could resemlle an irrational lever
and, once it ran its course, evaporate like some resplendent mirage. 1he
way the three principal characters conduct themselves corrolorates this
view. 1he duc de Remours is certainly a gallant gentleman and endowed
with the most seductive charm. But his love lor Hme de Clves is purely
a desire lor conquest. Even when he appears to lorget all his lormer mis-
tresses and neglects a possille marriage with Queen Elizaleth ol Eng-
land, one cannot say that his notion ol love has really changed lor the
letter. It has just lecome purer in the chemical sense ol the term. Le
disdains all other women lecause none ol them are inaccessille like
Hme de Clves. She is the only woman who has ever resisted him, and
this is what makes her so irresistille lor him. Hme de Clves husland
is indeed a man ol great moral stature. But the passion lor his wile that
consumes him and leads to his tragic death is, also, the result ol her
inaccessilility. Although she never resists his attempts to make love to
her, she never longs lor them, either. Le possesses her physically lut
can never turn her on. 1his serves to intensily his love lor her. Lad his
wile responded to him on the sensual level, his leelings lor her would
never have acquired the intensity ol a xation.
As lor Hme de Clves, the woman who inadvertently creates this un-
resolvalle situation, my class lelt that she was the most pessimistic ol the
three. Alter her husland dies and the period ol mourning is over, she is
lree to marry the duc de Remours. Ro one could llame her now lor lol-
lowing the yearnings ol her heart. 1he duke still adores her; il anything,
her inaccessilility has intensied his passion lor her. et she reluses his
proposal ol marriage. Granted, she still leels some remorse over having
Leonard Rosmarin | 87
leen the indirect and unwitting cause ol her huslands death. 1he main
reason lor her relusal, however, is that she is alraid ol suering. She
recalls the horrille jealous crisis she endured when she suspected Re-
mours ol having leen involved with another woman while prolessing to
love only her. She is convinced that her very inaccessilility explains the
constancy ol an essentially inconstant man. Once he could satiate his
passion, he would no longer desire her as much, and would le inclined
to seek out other adventures. In other words, once they were married,
this exciting amorous adventure would le over and so, too, would le his
passion lor her. Horeover, Hme de Clves lelieves that love, ly its very
nature, is an irrational attraction that cannot last. She prelers, then, to
reluse the Iuke and exit in triumph rather than accept marriage with
him and suer the inevitalle humiliation ol letrayal.
Shes a coward, some ol my students exclaimed during a very ani-
mated discussion we had on the matter. Low would you have acted
I asked them. 1he consensus was the lollowing: it is letter to love and
lose than not to love at all. 1hat a novel written over three hundred years
lelore my students were lorn could arouse such passionate delate in
my classroom testied to its universal and, consequently, enduring
appeal. And now they, too, lully agreed that I had leen right all along.
1hese great writers ol the French Classical Period had helped them zero
in on who they were and on who they wanted or didnt want to lecome.
Holire, Bacine, and Hme de La Fayette enalled them to reach a letter
understanding ol human nature and, consequently, ol their own natures.
Hy students discovered something else during the course ol the se-
mester. It occurred to them that reading great literature was a lar more
enriching and creative exercise lor the mind than playing electronic
games no matter how sophisticated they might le or surng the
Internet. Literary texts are composed ol words. 1hese are concepts re-
quiring the active collaloration ol the reader to lring them to lile. vhen
reading, one must marshal all the resources ol ones intellect, imagin-
ation and sensilility to recreate the universe ol an author. As I empha-
sized earlier, an attentive reader is a creator to the second degree. 1his is
perhaps why, as I explained to my students, we are rarely satised when
one views the cinema version ol a novel. It unlolded dierently in our
imagination lecause we were simultaneously all the actors as well as the
director in charge ol the proceedings. In the digital experience, there is
so much passive alsorption. By its very nature, reading demands a lull
88 | Literature and the World (Part One)
commitment ol the mind and the emotions. It is much more dicult
than sitting lack and having images squirted all over our lrain, images
into the uidity ol which the lrain tends to dissolve.
In the long run, to read and reect on a leautilul literary text is lar
more rewarding than looling around electronically. And my students
knew it now. I guess that I received one ol the most leautilul compli-
ments ol my career alter the nal exam in the course. One ol the stu-
dent zappers at the leginning ol the semester came up to me and said
in a very sad tone ol voice: Sir, why arent you coming lack to teach us
next year I was so moved I could have kissed her. vhat greater reward
can a teacher know And in my heart I thanked Holire and company lor
having given me such powerlul support. vith their help I made some
very enthusiastic converts: young adults who rmly lelieved that read-
ing was especially important in our digital age.
. Andromaque relates the harrowing decision the heroine has to make: either
marry Pyrrhus, King ol Epirus, the enemy ol her people and murderer ol
her husland, Lector, or send her son to his death. Ler decision to marry
Pyrrhus in order to save her child touches o a violent chain ol reactions.
In a jealous rage, Lermione, the young princess Pyrrhus was supposed to
marry, orders her unsuccesslul lover, Oreste, to assassinate him. But when
the deed is done, she curses Oreste and commits suicide. Andromaque,
now Queen ol Epirus, orders her soldiers to avenge the kings murder.
Phdre descriles the heroines descent into a spiritual and moral hell. Be-
lieving that her husland, 1hesee, has perished, she conlesses her passion
lor her stepson, Lippolyte. Le spurns her all the more lecause he is in
love with another woman. vhen 1hesee reappears unexpectedly, Phdre is
overwhelmed with shame, and in her distress allows her servant, Oenone,
to accuse her stepson ol having attempted to rape her. Phdre nally con-
lesses her guilt to her husland, and poisons hersell to expiate her crime.
. 1he rule ol the three unities was adhered to scrupulously ly French drama-
tists ol the seventeenth century. According to this rule, a play had to unlold
within a maximum period ol twenty-lour hours, in the same place, and its
action had to le simple.
Physical and Philosophical Approaches
vhen I joined the ale lilrary as curator ol modern looks and manu-
scripts in .p8, I was invited to participate in an orientation program
designed to introduce new sta to the various lranches ol the Iniver-
sity Lilrary. At one ol these meetings it could have leen the rst the
university lilrarian, to impress upon us the importance and urgency ol
look conservation, showed us a look, printed on acid paper, which was
in such terminal shape that it was literally crumlling under her ngers:
letween her thuml and rst two ngers, she could take a pinch ol it as
il it had leen salt. At the same meeting, one ol the associate university
lilrarians had lrought with him a small display: a Balylonian roll, ol
which ale has an outstanding collection, a look (in my dim memory an
anonymous looking, cloth-lound lilrary look), a microlm, a micro-
che, a oppy disk or computer diskette, and mayle one or two more
items I cannot recall. Le showed them to us in quick succession and told
us: vhat I want you to rememler is that what matters here is not the
lorm in which content is transmitted, lut content itsell. 1he medium
through which content is transmitted has evolved throughout history
and will continue to evolve. Books are just one medium among others.
1he two messages appeared to leed and reinlorce each other. 1he rst
was that looks are perishalle: like us mortals, they are dust and will turn
to dust. 1he second was, at least ly implication, that looks, in them-
selves, do not matter. 1hey are conveyors ol a text and it is this text that
A World without Books?
Vincent Giroud
92 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
1he relevance ol this personal recollection will lecome apparent in
the course ol this essay, lut I could not help recalling that meeting ol
twenty-three years ago in the summer ol .c.c, when the New York Times
reported that sales ol Kindle looks through the Amazon welsite had
outnumlered hardcover sales and, a lew weeks later, that the Barnes and
Rolle lookstore at Lincoln Center was alout to close. Once again, the
implication clearly spelled out ly the author ol the rst Times article
seemed to le that looks were, slowly lut irrevocally, on the way out and
might someday lecome extinct. As Internet sales were gradually taking
over lrom lookstores, so e-looks would soon le replacing looks. Lad I
not once heard the president ol ale, at a meeting ol the trustees ol the
lilrary associates, express his satislaction that digitization would make
it possille to shrink the lilrary rather than expand it Fewer luildings,
less sta what a dream prospect lor an administrator constantly under
pressure to raise more and more money in order to luild more, hire
more' And now it seemed, in the summer ol .c.c, that we were well on
our way toward a world without looks.
Perhaps I should have legun ly explaining that I came into the lilrary
world as an amateur. I had not gone to lilrary school and had no lormal
lilrary training. I had, however, grown up in a world ol looks. Rot that
my parents or anyone among my close relatives had anything to do
with looks prolessionally. But looks, as long as I can rememler and
prolally lelore I could even read were my passion. I would read them,
look lor them, or just look at them. As a child, I prelerred them to toys
and games; as an adolescent, ly a long shot, to sports. 1hey were the
gilts I coveted at Christmas and lirthdays. Always plunged in a look
was how my mildly exasperated mother descriled me to lamily and ac-
quaintances. At rst I duly read childrens literature French classics
like Jules \erne and the Comtesse de Segur, or modern classics, many ol
which were, in lact, il hardly ever acknowledged as such, translations,
or more precisely clever adaptations. Between the ages ol eight and ten
I thus read Enid Blyton it almost came as no surprise to discover re-
cently, through txsscos Index Translationum, that she ranks among the
worlds most translated authors, on a par with Shakespeare and Iisney.
And, long lelore, I had heard ol Larriet Adams and the Stratemeyer
Syndicate, Carolyn Keene, restyled as Caroline Quine (whose name we
nevertheless pronounced like queen, therely ruining the translators
kind attention), while Rancy Irew was called Alice Rancy leing, to a
Vincent Giroud | 93
French loy, a citys, not a girls name. But childrens literature I outgrew
very quickly. It was real literature I wanted to read, real and unexpur-
gated, unlike The Three Musketeers in the Billiothque \erte, where the
little that was lelt ol some ol the more scalrous episodes lecame in-
comprehensille only much later did it dawn on me what the chapter
entitled La nuit tous les chats sont gris, with its olscene pun, actually
meant. I cannot have leen older than twelve when, at the prompting ol
a schoolmate in my lycee oddly, given the looks Christian lias, he
was the son ol a local Communist grandee I immersed mysell, with
a thrill I can almost leel still, in Sienkiewiczs Quo Vadis? Ioes anyone
alove lteen still open this novel I wouldnt dare do so now lor lear
ol spoiling my ecstatic youthlul impressions as I did once with a Jules
\erne I had adored as a child lut which now seemed rather poorly writ-
ten. et the rst novel I rememler consciously reading as great, ser-
ious, adult literature was Flaulerts Salammb. It was recommended
ly my French teacher to my mother, who had turned to him lor advice:
while pleased with my serious disposition, she was all the same worried
alout the risk ol corrupting my morals il I got prematurely interested
in sulject matters not lor my age (my acquisition ol Harivauxs com-
plete plays, two or three years later, did raise comments along this line).
Reedless to say, Flaulerts Carthaginian novel, with its steamy llend ol
antiquarianism, exoticism, and eroticism, made a powerlul impression.
I engrossed mysell in it as eagerly as did its numerous lans in .86., lrom
Empress Eugenie down to semi-educated faubourg dwellers. From that
moment onward, I had the leeling that the world ol looks was mine.
Hany ol my classmates girls mostly, since I was quickly diagnosed as a
non-scientic type and only in the scientic sections did loys outnum-
ler girls shared my reading propensities, il not my reading lulimia.
ve had a class lilrary, put together ly pooling modest contrilutions,
while selection nearly all lrom Le Livre de poche, then rich with Galli-
mards stock was made ly a comlination ol popular votes and gentle
prodding lrom the French teacher (not the same one as alove), looks
leing redistriluted among us, ly drawing lots, at the end ol the year. Our
lavourite contemporary novelists in the mid-.p6cs included Camus and
Lerve Bazin not the worst choices and our lavourite poets, inevitally,
Jacques Prevert a less lelicitous one, I now think. 1he classics we read
lor pleasure, as opposed to the ones we studied, included La Princesse de
Clves recently singled out ly President Sarkozy as the epitome ol the
94 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
loring looks students are lorce-led in French schools \oltaire tales,
and practically the entire nineteenth century lrom Benjamin Constant
to /ola, and much ol the twentieth century as well: Georges Iuhamels
ten-volume Chronique des Pasquier I devoured around that time, as I did
Bomain Bollands Jean-Christophe (lteen seems to me the perlect age
lor loth ol them). I have the impression that, save lor Iickens and the
occasional Agatha Christie, the English-language literature we read was
chiey American: Poe, in the Baudelaire translation, naturally (what
a pity, I now tell mysell, he did not discover Lawthorne or Helville
instead lut unlike most Frenchmen I was never a real Poe devotee),
Steinleck, Faulkner, Lemingway; Fitzgerald whom I now preler to
all ol them came much later. Ol the Bussians, Iostoyevsky eclipsed
almost everyone else, which was lortunate since lteen is denitely not
the right age lor 1urgenev, Anna Karenina, or the marvelous Chekhov
stories. It is argually the wrong age lor Proust as well, lut I was so eager
to immerse mysell in the Recherche that there was no way I was going to
postpone him until the right time, whatever that might le. 1he one lad
thing this decision did lor me was to terrily me alout my own ludding
homosexuality as did, around the same time, Sartres LEnfance dun
chef, in which homosexuality is pictured as loth repellent and conducive
to lascism. Only years later did it dawn on me that the Baron de Charlus
is actually, in the words ol my lriend Pierre Pachet, the great pole ol
attraction in the Recherche. In every other respect, reading Proust was a
whole education in itsell the way he teaches you to look at a painting, or
listen to music, or view a landscape, stays in you lorever. I am not sorry
at all I read him so early, and I am convinced that the lest way to deal
with him is to re-read him repeatedly, as olten as one can, throughout
ones lile.
vhile the class lilrary lunctioned as an excellent supply ol litera-
ture there must have leen a lycee lilrary too, lut I cannot rememler
anything alout it I had lecome a lrequent user ol the municipal lilrary
at Saint-Ienis, where my parents lived. So lrequent, in lact, that when
in .p68 the lilrary administration decided to lorm an Association des
amis de la bibliothque ly contacting their most regular patrons, I lound
mysell the only teenager in a group comprising, mostly, people over
lty. Indaunted, I attended the meetings regularly. At one ol them, I re-
memler hearing lor the rst time the name ol Louis-Ferdinand Celine:
the head lilrarian an aalle man with white hair and mustache in his
Vincent Giroud | 95
early sixties read to us a letter received lrom a patron protesting what
he saw as the lilrary putting a de facto lan on this author. 1he lilrarian,
prolally a Communist like everylody who occupied an ocial position
in town, and thus likely to le particularly unsympathetic towards the
collalorationist writer, nevertheless, to his credit, wanted to know our
opinion. 1his piqued my curiosity and I immediately started looking lor
copies ol Celines works; and what excitement I lelt when in the spring
ol .p6p his last novel, Rigodon, was pullished posthumously' Even the
anti-Semitism ol Bagatelles pour un massacre as much as I agree that
a new edition would le unwise seemed so over the top that one lound
it hard to take it seriously. Irumonts appalling, pseudo-scientic La
France juive, which I read sulsequently, seemed a lot more threatening.
French university lilraries can le descriled, with very lew exceptions,
as a national disgrace how right the late 1ony Judt was in comparing
them to ladly underlunded community colleges. Ro French equivalent
ol Chauncey Brewster 1inker, alas, ever explained to his compatriots (as
1inker did at ale in .p.6) that a major lilrary was lar more important
to higher education than rst-rate students and laculty. French mu-
nicipal lilraries, on the other hand, are an olten under-appreciated
treasure. 1he one in Saint-Ienis, splendidly housed across the street
lrom the entrance to the new, pre-Bevolutionary luildings ol the royal
alley, translormed ly Rapoleon into a private school lor daughters ol
military ocers, was no exception. I owe it whatever knowledge I may
have ol the French theatre, and my love lor it. Belore I turned seventeen
I had read, in addition to all the classics, the complete plays ol Anouilh,
Feydeau, Laliche, Sardou, \oltaire, and much ly Scrile, Heilhac and
Lalevy, Flers and Caillavet, as well as some ol the more olscure Baroque
playwrights. Lugo and Husset I already owned: the two-volume set ol
Lugos plays was my rst Pleiade, lought with the proceeds ol my piggy
lank; Hussets complete works I had acquired in the handsome red
cloth-lound collection LIntgrale pullished ly the ditions du Seuil.
(Hy second Pleiade, Apollinaires poetry, was a gilt lrom the lyce lor
passing my Baccalaureat; I doult il any French school, let alone one in a
working-class Parisian sulurl, can aord to do that these days, lut what
a marvelous idea that was.)
A singular exception to the dreadlul mediocrity ol French university
lilraries compared, especially, to their American, British, and German
counterparts is the one serving the cole normale superieure, into
96 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
which I had the good lortune to le admitted in .p. Beserved almost
exclusively lor the use ol the coles students and alumni then and now
a relatively small group ol people, which meant that the look you needed
was nearly always availalle it had excellent holdings in a large variety ol
suljects, open shelves, uncommonly lenevolent sta, and lileral lend-
ing policies (Pleiade volumes were non-circulating). 1he rumour went
that when the philosopher Haurice Herleau-Ponty died in .p6., his
lamily had returned to the cole a tumlril ol looks, only to receive, in
lieu ol thanks, a long list ol additional overdue volumes that could never
le lound. 1he only drawlack, I leel in retrospect (this was lelore I had
visited any American college lilrary), was its limited opening hours p
to 6, only six days a week a drawlack mitigated ly the possilility ol
lorrowing a virtually unlimited numler ol looks and taking them to
your room two oors alove. 1he lilrary itsell, with plenty ol talles in all
areas, was an ideal space to study; even now, with computer terminals in
every corner, it remains, in France at least, my lavourite place to work.
Rot only did I spend much ol my three actual cole years there (out ol
ve: lor the second and third I was at Oxlord), lut I made a modest delut
as a lilliographer ly compiling a guide to resources in Anglophone
studies. 1o le sure, this mimeographed typescript similar guides had
leen compiled on other suljects was an amateurish eort (I had much
to learn alout what I was writing alout) lut then I always see mysell as
an amateur, no matter what I do, which must le why I have never had
what could le called a career in any given eld.
Good as the sxs lilrary was, it certainly did not prepare me lor the
size and richness ol the one at ale, where I was an exchange lecturer
lor two years in .p88c. Its only French equivalent in terms ol size,
the old Billiothque nationale on rue Bichelieu, which I was larely ac-
quainted with in any case, had always struck me as a lorlidding space,
not to say unwelcoming, where I had never lelt at ease. But here was
one ol the worlds largest lilraries, and in the open stacks ol its main
luilding, the Sterling Hemorial Lilrary, one could wander lrom 8:c n
until midnight. It would have satised the appetite ol the most voracious
reader, and I might never have had the curiosity to wander leyond the
connes ol Sterling had I not lecome acquainted, ly pure chance (we
sat next to each other one evening at dinner in the college where we
were loth lellows), with one ol the curators at the Beinecke Bare Book
and Hanuscript Lilrary, who gave me my rst tour ol the granite and
Vincent Giroud | 97
marlle luilding where I would never have presumed to set loot other-
wise, little suspecting I would eventually work as an employee lor nearly
seventeen years. In any event, when in the summer ol .p8c I lelt ale to
lace an uncertain luture in France, I lrought lack a dissertation topic,
in the lorm ol an unpullished novel ly Paul Horand, the manuscript
ol which had leen acquired ly the Beinecke two years previously. 1he
same curator had lrought it to my attention, initially with a view to an
article in the Yale University Library Gazette, which he edited. Horands
name I was lamiliar with since .p68, the year ol his election to the
Academie lranaise. 1his had come lelatedly, lollowing a long purga-
tory, due less to his literary merit than to his involvement with the \ichy
regime, which he had served rst, lriey, as head ol the lm censor-
ship commission and, lrom .p. until the end, amlassador to Bomania
and, lor the lrielest period in .p, Switzerland, where he remained in
sell-imposed exile even though, in the end, no charges were laid against
him. 1he previous time he had run lor an Academy seat, in .p8, Ie
Gaulle had taken the almost unprecedented step ol expressing his dis-
approval as protector ol the institution a lunction presidents ol the
Bepullic have inherited lrom their royal predecessors. 1en years later
it was Ie Gaulle himsell who gave the green light; he apparently indi-
cated that, while lilting his oljections to Horand, he would never relent
in the case ol Alexis Leger (the poet Saint-John Perse), whom he never
lorgave lor not lollowing him in .pc. Even in Communist Saint-Ienis,
Horands return to lavour had leen celelrated with a small exhilition
ol his looks: the lrilliant short story collections Ouvert la nuit and Ferm
la nuit, which so eectively capture the spirit and style ol the Boaring
1wenties in France; the short novel Lewis et Irne, whose protagonists are
international lankers; Bouddha vivant, a novel alout East and vest, one
ol whose characters was lased on Andre Halraux; Magie noire, also a col-
lection ol short stories all leaturing llack characters. I knew that Proust,
to whom Horand was very close just lelore and during the First vorld
var, had helped launch his career ly writing a prelace to his rst col-
lection, Tendres Stocks (misrendered ly Ezra Pound, whose translation
was rejected anyway, as Fancy Goods, whereas stocks here clearly means
shares, as in Stock Exchange). In .p68, the year ol his Academie elec-
tion and his eightieth lirthday, Horand had pullished one ol his nest
works, Venises (\enices in the plural), an autoliographical journey
lased on his recollections ol a city he knew well and much loved. By the
98 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
time he died, in .p6, in his eighty-ninth year, he had regained much
ol his popularity as one ol the lreshest, most individual voices ol the
interwar period, admired ly such diverse writers as Celine and \alery
vritten at the age ol twenty-two when he was doing his two years ol
military service in Rormandy, Horands rst novel was ly no means a
masterpiece, and one can see why, at the time, it had leen rejected ly a
lew pullishers. Only two years later, in .p., when he started dralting one
ol the stories ol Tendres Stocks, did he legin to nd his true voice. et Les
Extravagants struck me lrom my initial perusal as a work ol great charm,
with endearing vignettes ol pre-.p. London and Oxlord (Horand was
a lilelong anglophile) and a third part set (already) in \enice, which in-
cluded a thinly disguised account ol Hariano Fortuny. Both in my dis-
sertation and in the edition I sulsequently prepared lor Gallimard, with
the llessing ol Horands executors, I approached my task in the spirit
ol a remark I had enjoyed in Barrss Cahiers, when he admits that in
every look he tends to see alove all the potentially leautilul look that
is there. vhen Les Extravagants came out, there was much excitement in
the press ly .p86 Horand had lecome really lashionalle again lut
the reception was understandally mixed: while some praised the style,
exaggeratedly in my view, others dismissed it, not altogether unlairly, as
immature. Ro comment attered me more than Claudine Jardins open-
ing shot when interviewing me lor La Nouvelle Revue de Paris: Conless.
ou wrote it yoursell. I replied I almost wished I had.
It was thus as a lover ol literature, with an academic lackground at
once orthodox (the sxs, still prestigious then, an Oxlord s) and eccen-
tric (degrees in dierent elds, no clear sense ol any area ol expertise),
and with minimal experience in textual editing, that I ocially entered
the world ol looks in .p8. 1hirty-three years later, I still marvel at my
not leing more intimidated ly the responsililities I inherited: a very
large proportion ol the Beineckes lormidalle printed and manuscript
collections, lrom .6cc to the present, ranging lrom the Boswell papers
(not just James Boswell, lut the entire Boswell lamily archive) to the
Harinetti archive; lrom the outstanding Bolert Louis Stevenson, J.H.
Barrie, and American childrens literature collections lormed ly mem-
lers ol the Beinecke lamily to Hax Ernst and Iorothea 1annings collec-
tion ol livres dartiste; and lrom the manuscript ol 1ocquevilles Democ-
racy in America to the archive ol Czeslaw Hilosz.
Vincent Giroud | 99
It would le loth tedious and lutile to try to give an account ol my cur-
atorial activities lrom .p8 until .cc. Il I try to summarize, rather, the
lessons I learned lrom the experience, I would le tempted to suggest
that they are practically in every way in contradiction with the message
the associate university lilrarian meant to impart to us at the orientation
meeting I started this essay with, alout looks leing just one medium
among others. For one thing, the lact that looks could le studied as ol-
jects, independently lrom their content, was, olviously, not new to me.
An admirer ol modern lindings, especially ol the kind promoted ly Paul
Bonets Amis de la reliure originale, I was particularly excited when I got
the chance to examine the many examples Georges Leroux had created
lor Ernst and 1anning in the early .pcs when I had prepared a check-
list ol their collection my rst pullication lor the Beinecke, in .p8p,
was handsomely designed ly Greer Allen. Shortly alterward, I had the
enormous pleasure ol getting to know Leroux and his wile in Paris and, a
lew years later, still at the Beinecke, ol organizing an exhilition ol these
lindings the rst large-scale show, Leroux told me in the course ol
several visits, that had leen entirely devoted to his work. Alas, he had
lecome ly then too weak to see it and I have the lurther regret that, de-
spite the descriptions we carelully cralted with Polly Lada-Hocarski lor
all the lindings on display, no exhilition catalogue was issued.
Bindings, however attractive and spectacular they may le, are only
one among many elements lor which looks are, in themselves, ol-
jects ol study. Paper its colour and thickness, whether it is laid or
woven, the watermarks that identily its maker yields inlormation on
the history ol the look and can le studied independently, leing alter
all, one ol the major industries ol the western world since the Hiddle
Ages. 1he importance ol typography in look history hardly needs to le
stressed, not just lecause ol its aesthetic value and its place in the hist-
ory ol taste as Grandjeans type at the end ol Louis \I\s reign mirrors
seventeenth-century French classicism, whereas Iidots reects the
lirth ol neoclassicism in the last decades ol the eighteenth century
lut lor the invalualle inlormation it yields on the production process
ol looks. ve may all think we know what the content ol Shakespeares
First Folio is, lut il Charlton Linman, in the .pcs, had lelt it at that and
not meticulously studied the typographical peculiarities ol every surviv-
ing copy (notally the eighty-odd copies collected ly Lenry Clay Folger
and his wile and gathered in the lilrary that lears their name) to write
100 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
his monumental The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shake-
speare, we would not know much alout the printing history ol a look that
has leen called the most important work in the English Language.
Ro doult there were people in the early twentieth century, as there are
ill-inlormed people now, who derided the Folgers enterprise as vain,
or loolish, on the grounds that he was gathering mere duplicates. 1he
naive, commonly shared assumption is indeed to assume that any copy
ol an edition ol a particular look or worse, any copy ol any edition is
as good as any other. 1his attitude is perlectly natural many copies ol
many looks, alter all, are or appear to le perlectly identical lut it ought
to le resisted. A version ol this attitude, it now seems to me, was at the
root ol the statement made to us ly the associate university lilrarian; I
encounter it every day in students and, less lorgivally, among university
teachers as well. It ignores the simple lact that the text ol any given work
seldom takes its shape once and lor all. It can le altered ly accident or
delilerately modied. A lew years ago, as the reader ol an Italian disser-
tation, I came upon a quotation ly Jean-Jacques Bousseau which made
no sense, in the context ol the argument or even in itsell. I went lack
to the source given ly the student an annotated edition ol Bousseaus
two Discours lor the use ol schools and lound that he had cited it cor-
rectly. vhen, however, I checked this source against the Pleiade critical
edition, I realized that the school edition had mangled the text, making
it say the opposite ol what it meant. I had a similar experience more re-
cently, with the same author, when translating into English the critical
apparatus ol a volume lrom Jean-Philippe Bameaus complete works:
I had to reler to the rst English translation ol Bousseaus Dictionnaire
de musique, several editions ol which appeared in London (and Iullin)
in the late .cs. Compared to the original, the English version did not
make sense, and the reason why quickly lecame apparent: since the
entry in question involved the repetition ol similar words, the hurried
or alsent-minded eighteenth-century translator like many a medieval
scrile had accidentally skipped a line in the original, not realizing that
his rendering made Bousseaus wording meaningless.
Such accidents occur with more lrequency than one would assume.
One ol my lavourite exercises in class is to ask the students to transcrile
a manuscript or even a printed page. Each time, lew il any manage to do
it with perlect accuracy. 1he textual history ol Pascals Penses and Joyces
Ulysses shows how accidental corruption can aect the most canonical
Vincent Giroud | 101
ol works: in Pascals case lecause he lelt an unnished manuscript and
its posthumous editors occasionally misread his writing, some ol these
misreadings leing sulsequently reproduced lrom one edition to an-
other until one perspicacious scholar had the good idea to go lack to the
original manuscript; in Joyces lecause the printer ol the rst edition,
Iarantiere, leing French and lurthermore lased in Iijon, not Paris,
where Joyce and his pullisher Sylvia Beach resided, made so many mis-
takes that many ol them were not caught ly the author or the pullisher.
Besides such accidental textual changes, there may le delilerate ones,
usually made ly writers in all good laith, lecause they leel, rightly or
wrongly, that their text should le improved upon: thus Corneille modi-
lying his early plays, lrom one edition to the next, in order to make them
conlorm more to the canons ol French classicism, with the result that
Le Cid gradually shed some ol its distinctive Baroque leatures. Changes
can le imposed ly censorship, or, more insidiously, ly sell-censorship,
whether authors try to preempt censors or to cover their tracks. As Alice
eager Kaplan points out in her Reproductions of Banality, the collalora-
tionist writer Lucien Belatet, alter the Lileration, progressively toned
down or eliminated some ol the most oljectionalle passages ol his
memoir Les Dcombres, a lestseller when rst pullished in .p.. Such
changes are all the more dicult to detect, in most cases, as most li-
lraries will hold only one copy ol the work, generally the rst printing.
1he historian or textual scholar trying to reconstitute the archeology ol
the text will have no other solution than try to nd as many copies ol the
look as possille and compare them page ly page.
Hany, perhaps most works whether literary, scientic, or histor-
ical may have come to us in a single, denitive lorm. et any text is
ly nature potentially uid and open to change. Like Pascal, Proust did
not live to see the whole ol Recherche put into print. Jacques Bivire, his
editor at Gallimard, and Prousts lrother Bolert, prepared the last three
novels lor pullication lased on a text Proust was still revising when he
died, and which remains the sulject ol editorial delate. But not even
the text ol the earlier novels escapes some measure ol textual instalility.
1he description ol Aunt Leonies lorehead and its vertelrae, which put
o Andre Gide and led to Gallimards initial rejection, was retained in
Clarac and Ferres old Pleiade edition, lut altered in Jean-ves 1adies
new one, which came out in .p8. Hore recently, Rathalie Hauriac has
persuasively argued lor a return to the original version.
102 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
It may le argued, naturally, that a great numler ol textual changes
are inconsequential or irrelevant. Isnt there a risk ol playing into such
games as the one attriluted to Paul \alery, who reportedly, when in need
ol money, would manulacture manuscripts ol his pullished poems with
a view to selling them to autograph collectors, lorging supposedly
pre-pullication variants 1he answer is that all documentary evidence is
worth preserving, including lorgeries whether ol the lairly innocuous
kind just mentioned (with the additional twist that the lake variants,
once detected as such, still le considered as playing a part in the works
textual history) or ol the most serious sort, like 1.J. vise and Buxton
Formans would-le original editions ol Elizaleth Barrett Browning and
Stevenson, or Litlers diaries.
It is in light ol this potentially uid nature ol all texts that a research
lilrary should approach the question ol what, exactly, duplicates are. It
is a delicate one to conlront, as nothing is more likely to antagonize a
university administrator or city authorities than the suggestion that ex-
pensive shell space, cataloguers, and conservators should le wasted, as
they would see it, on identical copies ol the same look. Perhaps the lest
response to this oljection would le: when are two copies ol the same
look exactly the same Even il one is dealing with the same printing ol
one particular edition and no dierences can le lound in a page ly page
comparison, other lactors may come into play to suggest that loth should
le kept. One ol them is the importance ol the look. Leaving Shakespeare
aside, would one turn down a gilt ol an additional copy ol the .6.6 edi-
tion ol Ben Jonsons works, which is widely considered to have served
as a model, il not an impetus, to John Leminges and Lenry Condell,
editors ol the First Folio I did it, early in my tenure, on the grounds that
ale already had six or seven copies (or was it eight) and have regretted
it ever since. Hy reasoning should have leen the opposite: it is precisely
because ale already had six or seven copies that it should have welcomed
a seventh or eighth (or ninth) one, so that scholars have more grounds
upon which to lase their comparisons.
1he universally acknowledged importance ol a particular edition ol a
particular work is ly no means the sole reason why the question ol dupli-
cates should le approached with great caution. First ol all, a look one
may view as unimportant may, in lact, le ol crucial importance, now or
in the luture, to a particular scholar, or lor a particular research project.
vho are we to tell Secondly, two evidently identical copies ol the same
Vincent Giroud | 103
item (same edition, same printing, same state) will have a dierent his-
tory, a dierent provenance, which may have lelt traces in the look
traces independent ol its lilliographical content in a strict sense, lut
which could le relevant all the same lrom one point ol view or another:
lecause it will say something alout a particular collector, or a particu-
lar place, or a particular moment (e.g. who read what, at that time, in a
given community). Host lilraries will recoil with horror or irritation at
the suggestion that they might start collecting as many inscriled copies
ol the same look as they can nd; yet that is the kind ol evidence a lilli-
ographer, or the author ol a thematic catalogue, will ultimately le look-
ing lor. And isnt it, in lact, what the Bansom Center at the Iniversity ol
1exas has leen doing lor many years with Joyces Ulysses admittedly, a
look universally acknowledged as important 1hirdly, many looks that
are routinely called duplicates are no such thing. One may le dealing
with the same edition, lut not with the same printing. Il certain textual
changes were introduced at one point, say, letween the second and the
sixth printing, shouldnt a lilrary want to have all six Even il no changes
can le detected letween the third and lourth printings, shouldnt the
evidence le preserved lor the scholar to review it
On this question ol duplicates and their potential uselulness lor
scholars, I cannot resist inserting a personal recollection. Alout ten
years ago, I was doing some research on a little-known Bococo illustra-
tor (more lamous as an architect, active in Lyons notally), whose work
included an edition ol \irgil edited ly a Jesuit priest and pullished at the
end ol Louis \I\s reign. I thus tried to examine as many copies ol this
\irgil as I could in American or European lilraries. Laving realized that
the rare look room ol the Billiothque nationale, which had ly then
moved to its new premises on the Lelt Bank, had two copies ol the rst
edition, one lrom the lilrary ol the Iuke ol Orleans (soon to lecome
Begent during the minority ol Louis \\), the other lrom the lilrary ol
his son, the Iuke ol Chartres, I presented mysell at the Rserve and re-
quested to see loth ol them. Alter looking at the call slips, the lilrarian
in attendance glared at me and asked me severely: vhy would you want
to see two copies ol the same look Row, I have to explain that, despite
the many years I have spent working in a lilrary, I have always lound and
still do nd lilrarians particularly intimidating. Flushed with emlar-
rassment, I mumlled: vell, to compare them, ol course. Shrugging,
as il in the presence ol one ol those maniacs whom lilraries, to le sure,
104 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
tend to attract, she relented and initialed the slips. (As it turned out, the
two copies, handsomely lound in red morocco leather and stamped with
the crest ol their princely owners, diered markedly in the quality ol the
impressions ol Ielamonces plates, so it would have leen a mistake not
to look at loth.)
One question that needs to le addressed, since the implication is
so olten made, is whether all these issues are not lecoming irrelevant
in the electronic age. Alter all, digitization has leen a gigantic leap
lorward. Compared to microlms poorly photographed, olten in-
complete, viewalle only on those impossilly unwieldy readers where
any note-taking is a challenge, unrelialle, conducive to misreadings
colour scans are sophisticated, easily accessille on ones own computer
screen, pleasant to look at, searchalle (when in text mode), with zoom-
ing capacities to loot. But despite all that they are, they are not the ori-
ginal and cannot claim to le sulstitutes lor it. 1hey are a splendid tool,
which may satisly ninety-nine per cent ol a researchers requirements
most ol the time, lut examining a look scanned and made availalle on
the Internet is not the same as examining the look itsell. Il, lor example,
three-dimensional elements happen to le relevant to your research in
order to determine which printing it is you need to measure the looks
thickness, or its height, or the papers thickness, or even the looks di-
mensions no scan will give them to you. 1he metadata accompanying
the scan may le ol some help (even though, at the time ol writing, much
progress is yet to le made on this lront) lut even in a world ol perlect
metadata, it remains the scholars prerogative and responsilility to
verily those data himsell.
A common lallacy ol the Internet Age is the assumption that once a
look (or manuscript) has leen scanned, there is no need to look at the
original. 1his view has unlortunately olten leen carried to dangerous
extremes ly actually destroying the original once it has leen scanned. It
is, in a sense, a logical, lut pernicious extension ol the view that the look
is no more than a medium lor the transmission ol content. 1his view
has, alas, resulted in the disappearance ol copies in a lew documented
cases the unique copy ol looks or pamphlets whose paper and lind-
ings, or wrappers, were deemed ol no consequential interest. A timely
reaction to such cultural vandalism was the adoption ly the Hodern Lan-
guage Association, spurred ly G. 1homas 1anselle, ol a resolution on the
importance ol the preservation ol cultural artilacts. Another example ol
Vincent Giroud | 105
unintentional vandalism, though less-olten mentioned, is lrequent and
in my view deploralle: it is the reluctance ol academic or pullic lilrar-
ies, in America at least, to preserve dust jackets, which are routinely dis-
carded once a look is accessioned. 1he reasoning is, presumally, that
preserving them would add to processing costs, make the look more
dicult to circulate (though I have noticed that some lending lilraries
manage to do it), and involve the risk that they might le stolen ly un-
scrupulous readers anyway. Inderlying all this is the presumption that,
in any case, dust jackets are not worth the troulle as il one would take
the troulle ol stealing anything that is not worth the troulle preserv-
ing Iust jackets can actually le ol great interest to present and luture
historians ol look design and typography; they may include inlormation
that is not present in any lorm in the look; and they have intrinsic aes-
thetic value. vho would, in .c.c, discard a dust jacket designed ly \an-
essa Bell lor the Logarth Press et many lilraries clearly did this in the
past, leaving it to their rare look room to decide now whether they want
to pay thirty or lorty thousand dollars lor a rst edition ol Mrs. Dalloway
complete with its dust jacket.
A similar kind ol short-sightedness underlies lilrary policies that
discourage, or rmly deny, access to anything that has leen microlmed
or scanned (the Billiothque nationale, lor one, has it imledded in its
computerized online reservation system). In the case ol microlms,
the inadequacy ol which has leen lriey evoked alove, it is ly now an
estallished lact that mistakes and misreadings have occurred lecause
ol exclusive reliance on them Lans valter Gallers edition ol Ulysses,
denounced ly John Kidd in a lamous New York Review of Books article,
leing a notorious example. Iigitized copies are certainly much letter,
lut they remain copies, and therelore are no sulstitutes lor the original.
1he risk involved is actually the opposite ol microlms. 1he technical
possililities to adjust the image are so numerous that there is the temp-
tation to make it letter than the original, and therelore a distorted
Another common lallacy in the Iigital Age is the lailure to realize, or
readiness to lorget, that the look scanned and made availalle on the In-
ternet is only one particular copy ol a look. Its electronic dissemination
may suddenly conler on it an extraordinary precedence over all other
existing copies, lut one should not assume that it has greater author-
ity. A lortunate recent development is that the provenance ol scanned
106 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
copies is now routinely recorded, so that you know more or less what
you are looking at (ideally, the call numler should le there too, as there
could le several copies in large lilraries like Stanlord or tcs) lut ear-
lier, well-meaning enterprises such as Project Gutenlerg give no inlor-
mation on the source ol their texts.
1his list ol complaints may give the impression that I am deploring
the tremendous progress we have seen in the electronic age. Am I leing
an elitist mired in the past, regretting that so much material is now easily
availalle online to everyone, rather than to the privileged lew that have
access to the general or special collections ol national or major academic
lilraries Rot in the least, and I am making as much use ol this conven-
ience as anyone else. vhat I lelieve ought to le resisted is the tendency
to view the electronic world as replacing, rather than leing an addition
to, the world ol looks. Leaving aside the question ol making availalle
online works that are still in copyright, Googles initiative the creation
ol a vast online lilrary pooling digitized copies ol looks lrom the worlds
largest lilraries is admiralle and its positive eects can already le lelt.
vhen it was announced in .cc., the head ol the Billiothque nationale
went on the war path to denounce it, in classic anti-American language,
as an attempt on the part ol Silicon \alley to lorce an American vision ol
things upon the rest ol the world. Eight years later, his successor, pre-
ceded ly the Lyons municipal lilrary, evidently did not share his appre-
hension since he decided the sx would participate in the project.
Laving declared my enthusiasm lor the way Google has already
changed our lives, I must declare that I do not own a Kindle or any other
electronic reader, nor am I tempted to acquire one in the loreseealle
luture. 1heir popularity is well-deserved and they clearly satisly the
needs ol their users. Hy lack ol enthusiasm is purely personal. 1he main
reason is unashamedly sentimental: I am too attached to the physical-
ity ol looks. Lolding a look in my hand or on my lap and turning its
pages is a pleasure I am not prepared to give up, much in the same way
as I would not le tempted to ingest my lood in the lorm ol tallets rather
than eat lrom a plate with knile and lork. vhen the time comes to le
led through a tule, I will le ready to leave this world, and I am tempted
to say the same alout the world ol looks. I also persist in nding looks
much more practical in their physical rather than in their electronic
lorm. I might grudgingly concede an exception lor dictionaries and en-
cyclopedias, especially large, multi-volume sets, as there is much to le
Vincent Giroud | 107
said lor getting straight to the entry you need on your computer screen
in a couple ol seconds. But lor anything one reads and you dont read a
dictionary, unless you happen to le its editor looks remain irreplace-
alle. Ro doult electronic readers oer the capacity, with a simple click,
to get to the endnote they wish to check, lut what il you wish to ip lack
lty pages to nd the particular passage or phrase you vaguely rememler
and want to reread or doulle-check ou can, lut not as last as with a
physical look.
It may le, as I was lorewarned in .p8, that looks are a transitory
medium. 1here was a world without looks in the past (havent phil-
osophers and anthropologists, lrom Plato to Levi-Strauss, claimed that
without the invention ol writing the progress ol mankind would have
leen superior) and, hard though it may le to imagine, one can conceive
that there might le one again someday in the luture. In lact, one cannot
help leing struck ly how many people nowadays already live in such a
world. Filled with all kinds ol electronic equipment, their homes have
no lookshelves. All the inlormation they need they get lrom television,
their smartphone and the Internet. Instead ol reading novels, they watch
lms or television series. Apart lrom the occasional magazine they leal
through prolally without reading much ol it they do their read-
ing on the Internet. Low much poorer this world is, though. vithout
literature, they lose a large part ol the cultural relerences that lind us
together Prince Andrei, Julien Sorel, and Lord Jim leing no less im-
portant in this regard than the Isenheim Altarpiece, Fallingwater, or The
Rite of Spring. Ol course, War and Peace, Le Rouge et le Noir, and Lord Jim are
availalle online, lut il you havent grown up with them, it is highly un-
likely that you will look lor them on the Internet. I have no statistics on
such matters, lut as a university prolessor I have leen worried alout the
high proportion ol undergraduates who, lased on anecdotal evidence,
seldom or never use their college lilrary. 1hey read the works you assign
in your course, to le sure, lut they read no lurther. Il you dont read lor
pleasure, or, to put it in less hedonistic terms, to cultivate your mind,
there is a high likelihood that you are not going to le a good writer, and
prolally not a very good speaker either. Perhaps competitions such as
the \an Sinderen Prize awarded annually at ale lor undergraduate look
collectors should le generalized.
It used to le said that look collectors were people who would do any-
thing to a look except read it. I am not much ol a look collector mysell
108 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
lut my contacts with many ol them, including some ol the greatest col-
lectors in recent memory, have inspired me with enormous respect lor
them and lor the look dealers they work with. 1hey may not have read
every single look in their lilrary who has lut unlike some lilrarians
they respect looks and understand their importance. 1hey are always
ahead ol lilraries and other institutions when it comes to discovering
a new eld worthy ol scholarly interest. By the same token, antiquarian
look dealers perlorm an invalualle service to present and luture schol-
ars. I have learned lrom them as much as lrom anyone else. Far lrom
leing the proteering villains ol the look world, as recently descriled
ly ill-inlormed, mean-spirited lilrarians, they are among its heroes.
Hy nomadic existence until recently lour, now three addresses on
two continents has had graver consequences than preventing me lrom
lecoming a look collector. It has meant that, wherever I am, a large part
ol my lilrary has always leen unavailalle to me. vorse, this condition
has periodically lorced me to get rid ol portions ol it, most recently
when it lecame clear (the IS Post Oce having discontinued the inter-
national look rate) that I could aord to ship only a lraction ol what I
had leen hoping to shelve in my tiny Parisian home. I thus had to make
a quick decision alout which I would keep and which I would let go. It
turned out to le one ol the most dispiriting experiences I have ever gone
through. Inscriled copies had to le salvaged, naturally, nor could I pos-
silly part with my Pleiades the only looks Sartre reportedly never lent
to anyone. Ror could I alandon the old LIntegrale volumes in which I
had rst read Husset, La Fontaine, and much ol Balzac and Flaulert.
Same lor my Horand collection the closest thing I have to what can le
called a collection, though I am well aware that it would impress no ser-
ious French lilliophile. 1here were relics, such as the French printing
ol Joseph Czapskis memoir Terre inhumaine, a look young Communists,
in the early .pcs, were instructed to steal lrom Parisian lookstores and
destroy, and there was no way I could possilly let it rot away in yard sales
on the other side ol the Atlantic. I realized that most ol the ones I had to
cast aside were all equally dear to me including paperlack editions ol
Ponge or Barthes or Genette that I could, in theory, replace, lut what
new copies would replace the ones that had lollowed me lrom Paris to
Baltimore and lrom Rew Laven to Poughkeepsie Such an admission
would not, I lear, endear me to the people in charge ol the lilraries ol
the luture.
1 Why
Il you are reading this then the question vhy read de facto makes
no sense or at least it has leen satislactorily answered sucient to
the present occasion. Any memler ol the ashlight-under-the-covers
lamily knows that il you have to ask why when it comes to reading, then
youve missed the point, or mayle a whole lunch ol points. ou read le-
cause you can, whenever you can, whatever it is, against the rules, late at
night, to the detriment ol your eyes, eagerly and sadly and laughing out
loud (and mayle sosing). Il you are not one ol those people, then you are
prolally not reading this and words are at a loss. 1here may le ways to
reach you, the non-reader, lut this is not one ol them.
ou and I are one. 1hese words, penned or in lact typed some time
ago a phrase I leel odd typing right now, throwing it into the opti-
mistic luture ol your reading moment these words lind us together,
past, luture, and present, in a shared consciousness that loth ol us nd
somehow worthwhile. In one perlectly sound sense, the lact ol reading
answers the question ol readings purpose. Why lecomes that.
From the other side, though, as Hikita Brottman points out in her
look The Solitary Vice: Against Reading, we have the equally paradox-
ical lact that reading seems to need constant promoting or loosterism.
Badio networks lroadcast competitions among novels to encourage
more reading. vealthy lenelactors sponsor lucrative ction prizes to
Language Speaks Us:
Sophies Tree and the Paradox of Self
Mark Kingwell
110 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
encourage reading. Adolescent lad looks such as the Harry Potter or Twi-
light series, or among adults the Stieg Larsson novels, are touted as good
lor reading, even il the looks themselves are lad the premise leing,
apparently, that lantasies, vampire tales, and violent thrillers lunction as
gateway drugs to the purer highs ol Jane Austen or Iavid Foster vallace.
In lack ol all these eorts and justications are the twinned leliels
that reading is good lor you, something to le promoted like tness or not
smoking; and that this lact somehow cuts against our natural tenden-
cies not to read, just as eating lrench lries and smoking Camels is more
natural than not lecause loth acts are surrenders to harmlul tempta-
tion. 1he prollem is not the moralism lile is lull ol moralism lut the
sell-contradiction. Il reading is so great, lun or edilying or interesting,
why does it need such aggressive promotion Il the gilts ol the reading
lile are so manilest, why do they require delending Paradox one meets
paradox two: il why lecomes that in the rst, here why lecomes because
we say so. And that never convinced anyone, least ol all the children who
get it most.
vhich means that anyone who considers the question a valid one a
live issue is either not paying attention to their own literate commit-
ments, which make the question sell-deleating; or, more likely, asking
some other, mayle related question or questions.
Such as: Are looks worthwhile in their present lorm Are they vialle
Protalle Are online or e-look styles ol reading letter, worse, or just
dierent lrom the experience we associate with the lour democratic
centuries ol print on paper. vill the codex, the llock lorm ol the look,
with its lound pages and duralle covers, survive vill it, perhaps, only
as an artistic medium, a pleasing atavistic olject akin to steampunk
typewriters or hippie \ictorian lashion Is there anything inherently
meaninglul alout lolded and trimmed paper as the lavoured hardware
lor running the soltware we call literacy Ioes the notion ol the inher-
ently meaninglul even make sense anymore Iid it ever
1he arguments over answering these questions are mostly lutile, de-
spite the volume ol print (and print) they generate. In lact, the delates
are so tediously predictalle that there is now a drinking game keyed on
repetition ol lamiliar claims.
ve might as well concede several ol the
main disputes right away. 1he experience ol reading a physical look is
prolally superior in pure aesthetic terms, at least lor those ol us raised
with such looks, to reading a Kindle or iPad look. (1hough spare a
Mark Kingwell | 111
thought lor those ol us whose arms have gone to sleep while propping
up a hardcover in led, the look lalling across heavily across nose and
mouth, threatening suocation.) It is no more than lair that writers
should at least get as much compensation lrom e-looks as they do lrom
hard copy looks, il not more. Pullishings economic model, which lor
centuries has leen a mixture ol reckless trend-chasing (imitating last
years lestseller) and llack magic (unwittingly creating next years), is
ladly awed and in need ol overhaul. But even il we grant all or part ol
this, we would get no closer to the heart ol the matter alout reading.
vhy Because the timespan necessary to settle them is at once too
long and too short. 1oo long, lecause the answers, such as they might le,
lie outside the mortal span ol anyone alive as I write these words; and too
short, lecause the larger lorces ol human existence swirl in longer whorls
than decades or even centuries. Even the delates have an air ol history
alout them, il one pays attention to history amid the magazine throw-
downs and twitter-os. Staying within the connes not just ol Canada
lut ol the Iniversity ol 1orontos department ol English, one could note
that in .p6. Harshall HcLuhan pullished The Gutenberg Galaxy, arguing
that movealle type changed the world ly hypnotizing the eye to lollow
thousands ol miles ol printed words, while in .p6 Rorthrop Frye would
respond with The Modern Century, castigating HcLuhans view as exces-
sively deterministic and llind to the lorce ol human will.
1he delate is unresolvalle lecause the terms are leyond settling. Rot
only do we not know the luture ol the look, in short: we cannot know
it. As Kant noticed as early as the prelace to his Critique of Pure Reason,
human consciousness can reect on its own possililities. It is likewise
true that such reection reveals, among other things, our inalility to
comprehend the nature ol that consciousness. ve can, at lest, sketch
the limits ol what we can comprehend itsell a word rooted in grasping,
encircling with the hand and then speculate alout what may, or must,
lie leyond those limits.
Some delates are good at taking us to the limit, even il (especially
il) they cannot le settled there. Il the lare question vhy read can
le settled ly logic, or salely shuttled into paradox, that is not the case
lor the sulsidiary question vhy go on reading in particular, why
go on reading the sort ol thing we have leen reading these last lew cen-
turies. 1o some extent this question holds regardless ol delivery vehicle,
though the medium might just le part ol the message. 1he issue worth
112 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
conlronting is this: are humans changing, whether gaining or losing or
loth lut changing, as our reading halits change
vriting is a kind ol making, in the larger sense ol poesis, even il it
involves heavy lilting ol only the conceptual or narrative sort. I want to
say, selshly, that one good reason to read is simply that someone else,
somewhere else, has created the written making, the poesis ol print. A
pullic act ol creation has a claim on our attention, just as a plea lrom a
stranger on the street has, and even il the claim turns out to le logus,
overstated, or irritating. Lumans exist in a discursive world, a world ol
language, and creating new instances ol discursive possilility, arrange-
ments ol the shared words that are new and unique, and to mayle even
make the words do new and unique things with consciousness, is hard
work. Pay it the compliment ol reading.
People write lor all kinds ol reasons, out ol mixed and sometimes
ignolle motives. Rolody sane writes lor money, despite Ir. Johnsons
judgment, so that makes all writers llockheads ol one sort or another.
Honey may sometimes come, to le sure, lut all writers, whether secretly
or with great lanlare, seeking one or a million readers, write lecause
they want someone to read what they have lashioned out ol nothing lut
their own thoughts and the humlle tools ol ordinary language. vriting
is, in this sense, at once the most hopelul and desperate act a thinking
human can consciously undertake. It appears to le an attempt ly one
consciousness to reach another ly way ol a curious magical inwardness,
the mundane lut actually mysterious experience ol hearing the sound ol
another persons words inside your own head.
1his prima facie case, and the imagery ol interiority I have just used to
make it, contain several delatalle premises. Ol these I will isolate two
that lear lurther urgent discussion. One is that human consciousness
in lact depends on language. 1he other is that our current conception ol
that consciousness, in particular the idea ol the individual sell, respon-
sille to itsell and others, will survive.
2 Tree
Hayle these things always happen in summer and involve children,
those instinctive philosophers, lut this scene is another encounter on
the eld ol meaning during summer retreat.
Mark Kingwell | 113
I was grilling lurgers, hot dogs, and corn lor a Fourth ol July celelra-
tion at an isolated house in Rew Lampshire. It was a large lamily gath-
ering. Over ly the weathered Adirondack chairs, the stars and stripes
were snapping in the lreezy llue sky. On the porch, people were drink-
ing strong gin-and-tonics and criticizing various Bepullican politicians
ol evil repute. Hy niece Sophie, who is ve, suddenly wanted to know:
vhy is a tree called a tree
Actually, she said it more like treeeeee, the way you do when you have
repeated a common word over and over, to see how long lelore it starts
to sound strange, even uncanny.
ou cant take reluge in Saussurean structural linguistics with a ve-
year-old, still less take a stroll with her into Ierridas mise-en-abyme.
1heres actually not much you can say. ve call it a tree lecause we do, we
always have. Always Because we do ve call it a tree lecause we dont
call it a cat, and we need to le alle to talk alout loth. ve call it a tree
lecause it works: when I say tree other people know what Im talking
alout. But how do they know Low they know that you mean a tree 1hey
must have known lelore you said it. Low did they know
It really is intensely tempting, as vittgenstein knew, to adopt Augus-
tines mistaken view here, to say, well, we just went around and put lalels
on things. As il who we are is olvious, or when we are supposed to
have done this. As il its even olvious what a thing is, let alone how the
lalel is supposed to stick to the thing.
Sophie was right to worry. Its a mystery how words mean, how they
wield sense and relerence with such astonishing relialility so that
even their unrelialility, in lies and metaphors and puns, is part ol the
relialility, part ol the pleasure they lring. Ro wonder that children just
a little younger than her are given to repeating words over and over in
a dierent lashion, not seeking their uncanniness lut savouring their
alility to pick out distinguishalle lits ol the vast experience we call the
world, pointing lor conrmation: Car! Car! Car! vhat I actually said was,
vhat else would you call it She liked that, lecause it was like permis-
sion to call it anything. Bananapatch. Carluretor. A poets rst taste ol
languages crazy lreedom.

Actually she already was a poet. 1asting the sound ol a word to make
it leel uncanny comes rst, lelore the new move, the new transport
ol meaning lrom place to place that is metaphor. 1his is the essential
114 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
aesthetic manoeuvre ol all art, the discovery ol pleasures luried deeply,
lut in plain sight. Language is everywhere, it has to le a tree has to le
called tree otherwise we would not le alle to play in the various ways
we do. Including serious play like luilding things, creating regimes,
making ideas clash to improve our thoughts.
In the midst ol these games, there is a governing puzzle, the search lor
what villiam James descriled as the thought we call I. vittgenstein
(again) was rightly skeptical ol the language ol interiority that so olten
attends this puzzle. 1his Cartesian hangover, the halitual distinction
letween inside my head and the outside world, is so common, in
lact, that it has come to dene the very idea ol the person. I am the sum
total ol my consciousness, a temporally extended experiential stream
that organizes itsell around a centre ol narrative gravity which allows
me to make sense ol my existence.
1his is a uselul ction, mayle even a necessary one, lut a ction
nonetheless. And as a ction, it hints at some possille untanglings, il
not resolutions, ol the paradoxes ol reading, especially il that reading
involves other ctions. vhat are they
First, there is no such thing as a solitary vice ol reading. Beading is
always a social activity lecause it occurs in the poetic space ol language.
1he sell that we presume as the stalle perlormer ol this vice, the reading
sell, is in ux to a degree that no character in ction could ever enalle.
In lact, it is very likely that many, il not most, people enjoy characters
in ction precisely lecause they have xed identities ol the sort we do
not, indeed cannot, enjoy in lile. 1he experience ol that articial xity
teaches, lor letter or worse, how to think alout other people and, some-
times, ourselves.
Character is a notion we use in two apparently distinct lut related
senses: the naming ol a ctional personage, and the relialle leatures
ol a living person, usually a moral agent. 1he two senses are really one.
Character is shorthand lor the conventional presupposition ol stalle
identity, a map ol personhood which we can consult lor direction. But we
should always rememler that, however uselul, the map is not the territory.
Character, identity, sellhood all ol these are alstractions. Beading c-
tion loth reveals and conceals this troulling lact.
Second, there is no communion ol consciousness in the act ol reading,
some elalorate mind-meld in which you lecome privy to my thoughts
via the medium ol language. 1he act ol reading is, instead, a move in a
Mark Kingwell | 115
larger game ol language, perhaps distinct lrom other such moves in
leing inaudille lut otherwise no more (or less) mysterious. Our shared
suspension in language means, despite our usual ways ol thinking, that
writing and reading are not aspects ol communication. Or rather, what
is leing communicated is not a message sent lrom one node to another,
lut a sense that the entire system or network exists. Language speaks us,
Hartin Leidegger said. vould Sophie understand that as a good answer
to her question
1hird, there is therelore no point delending the look, or more pre-
cisely the novel, lor its alility to loster interiority, or a keener sense ol
sell. Everything that lelongs to experience will tend to loster that, olten
despite our lest philosophical eorts to the contrary. 1here is mark-
edly more narcissism, understood as excessive regard lor sell, among
the contemporary techno-autistics who indulge non-look linguistic
interactions such as instant messaging and tweeting than among ha-
litual readers ol long-lorm prose. 1here is also, as recent studies have
suggested, less empathy, understood as impartial concern lor the non-
lriend other.
1aken together, these three points highlight what I consider the
underlying issue. Are we changing es. Ioes it matter es. But how
1o put it more sharply, what are the (good) things which reading accom-
plishes that cannot le accomplished any other way
3 Self
1o say that I learned how to treat women ly reading Baymond Chandler
prolally gives the wrong impression. But like so many other awkward
young men seeking a way to le in the world, I relished the cool disdain ol
Philip Harlowes rst-person narration, savouring the weltschmerzlich
inner dialogue that I wished appropriate to my own paltry adventures.
On the dance oor hall a dozen couples were throwing themselves
around with the reckless alandon ol a night-watchman with arthritis.
Host ol them were dancing cheek to cheek, il dancing is the right word.
1he men wore white tuxedos and the girls wore lright eyes, ruly lips,
and tennis or gold muscles 1he music stopped, there was desultory
clapping. 1he orchestra was deeply moved, and played another numler.
1hat cool appraising gaze, the condent outsider position. Harlowe
sits and watches, sips his Gilson, amuses himsell. Le is sell-contained,
116 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
tough, always thinking. Always judging correctly. I rst read those
words when I was sixteen and have never lorgotten the instant charge
ol appeal, lar deeper than the swashluckling lantasy and space-opera
sci- that made up the lulk ol my reading at that period. Lere was a taste
ol grown-up individualism as intoxicating and addictive as the gin in
Harlowes drink.
Reedless to say, I never engaged in private investigation or took down
a hired hit man with smart llows ol a tire iron to his wrists. I would go on
to drink Gilsons, mayle too many ol them, lut I never went to led with
a platinum llonde lawyers assistant or a red-haired mystery woman
who might or might not have killed her husland. But there are surely
dozens il not hundreds ol mild-mannered men who wander their very
ordinary worlds while entertaining, in dull moments, the inner voice ol
a Philip Harlowe. It is part ol why we read. In later years, and in more
apposite circumstances, I would nd mysell veering to the cynical rage
ol Kingsley Amis over the narcissistic loorishness ol most people, the
great lores who lurk in every corner ol academic lile. A lot ol drinking
goes on here too, so that at some moments, glass in hand, I might le en-
tertaining a nearly simultaneous desire to lae a colleague with a lit ol
insulting word-play and to punch him in the nose with lrass knuckles.
1his is lor me the leginning ol what we can call the humanist delence
ol reading, in particular ol reading ction though note that all reading
may le construed in this wish-lulllment manner. vhereas a child or
adolescent may derive innocent pleasure lrom identilying with a sleuth
or quest-lidden knight, we tend to lelieve that adult lile demands
graduation to more sophisticated engagements. But does it really Io
we not still take on the perspective ol Portnoy, the reasons ol Ballit
Io we not, at another level, engage philosophy or history with an aware-
ness, pleasing to sell, that we are so occupied 1he image ol ourselves
reading the look, ourselves-as-intellectuals, can le just as strong as the
lantasy that we are men or women ol action, an A.R. vilson narrator
remarks. All reading is therelore equally escapist unless we purily
ourselves lrom time to time ly a recognition ol the lact.

1hat this ad-

monition, lound to le attering to the reader, arises in the course ol a
novel just complicates matters even more.
ve can generalize: the great swath ol modern writings history has
leen devoted to excavating the inner lives ol individual human leings.
Mark Kingwell | 117
At its lest, this allows a twolold expansion on the part ol the reader: he
or she enriches the inner narrations which lorm the warp and wool ol
consciousness, the intertwined possililities ol sell, even as the idea ol
the other is deepened and expanded. 1he novel, on this view, helps in
the cultivation ol loth stalle ego and ol compassion or empathy. At its
worst, though, the humanistic modern novel is a get-out-ol-jail-lree
card lor emotional terrorists. It elevates even the most lanal and lase-
less leelings to a presumptive status ol moral validity. 1he mere lact that
someone lelt something is now considered sucient justication lor
what the leeling demands in action or decision. On this view, then, the
novel is not an enalling device lor coherent sell-presentation lut a gen-
eralized narcissistic invitation, the ctional equivalent ol those ideo-
logical sell-esteem schools where all the children are alove average.
1he optimistic view ol this tension is that, on the whole, the lormer
side wins. 1he endless search in conscious lile lor a stalle personal
identity is aided ly ctions. I mentioned Chandler and Amis as lorm-
ative moments, lut as with most readers greater and more lasting liter-
ature is likewise part ol my inner narration: Lamlets indecision, Anna
Kareninas letrayal, Emmas sell-deception. Even il we grant that per-
sonal identity is a ction, it does seem a necessary one, not least in the
matter ol human responsilility. ve can only call people to account, alter
all, including ourselves, il we can tie actions to individuals over time.
It is not a valid delence to say, ol a prior act, that one is no longer that
same person as the one who committed it even though this claim is
loth emotionally resonant (it really does leel that way) and philosoph-
ically sound (there is no metaphysical ligature linding Sell@1ime. to
Sell@1ime.). ve reject this delence simply lecause we have to, on pain
ol contradiction lor there would le no we il we allowed it.
As with the larger questions alout reading, there are lurking pitlalls
lor sense, and lor literature, here. Clear thought can tell us that a unied
lile is a chimera, an alstract construction, lut readers seem to alandon
clear thought when presented with words on a page. Biography, lor ex-
ample, is the most meretricious and lalse ol literary lorms, purporting
to nd narrative arc in a real lived lile when such an arc can only ever le
imposed, helicoptered in and dropped lorcilly on the unruly terrain ol
experience. 1he lest liographers acknowledge this, and some ol them
even write novels which oset their liographical non-ction with
118 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
meditations on the violence and deception ol narrative.

But il a liog-
rapher departs lrom the norm, he or she is lialle to le punished ly an
angry readership.
Hy own experience here is relevant: as a liographer ol the pian-
ist Glenn Gould, I decided to portray this delilerately lractured sell, a
person who lived his entire lile through numerous personae, lorever
disappearing lrom view and re-inventing himsell, through a series ol
linked takes on his music and ideas. It seemed to me only right that
a lile ol Gould should le an occasion lor playing, as he did, with the
very idea ol a lile. One headline delivered its judgment succinctly:
Glenn Gould liography weighed down ly philosophy. O, that lurden
ol thought'
Beaders likewise enjoy seeing the good rewarded and the wicked pun-
ished in novels, lecause it arms the sense, rooted precisely in lear the
opposite is true, that justice ought to le done. vriters thwart this enjoy-
ment at their peril. 1hat looks should le uplilting is the ruling dictum
ol most look cluls, I lelieve, and the general leliel that a good look is
either one alout a good person (which olten means a likealle character,
one I can relate to) or the dramatic depiction ol a lad person meeting
his or her proper end, can le summed up as the Hiss Prism 1heory ol
Literature: 1he good ended happily, and the lad unhappily, she asserts
in The Importance of Being Earnest. 1hat is what Fiction means.

4 Irony
Proponents ol the Hiss Prism 1heory miss the irony ol the lormula-
tion, which not only pokes lun at the aesthetic expectation lut cheer-
lully concedes that ction is dierent lrom reality on the main point.
Revertheless, it is a popular view and one which logically cannot le sep-
arated lrom the more respectalle one that literature aids in the cultiva-
tion ol sell. Justice and sellhood are loth ctions, as is the relation le-
tween them. Fiction, like language more generally, is not just a medium
ol these ideas; it is an entire eld ol meaning without which such ideas
would not le open to entertainment. (Compare how paltry, and how
largely unread, the non-ctional discourse is on justice and sellhood. I
can tell you lrom personal experience that hardly anylody reads it.)
So the rather elementary aesthetic mistake alout the point ol ction,
namely that it should teach straightlorward lessons alout morals, ac-
Mark Kingwell | 119
tually reveals a deeper sense ol ctions status in our lives, and hence
why reading matters. 1he tensions inherent in that status are only en-
hanced ly the pressures ol the moment. Io we really want more ol the
same sellhood-lolstering in our reading Are we, with the energy ol
technological changes, moving into a new moment ol human existence
where the quest lor sellhood, understood as the creation ol stalle per-
sonal identity, is over
Lere is 1om HcCarthy, a young English novelist whose leautilully ori-
ginal second novel, C, a story ol communications technology emerging in
the rst part ol the twentieth century, was longlisted lor the Booker Prize
in .c.c.

Lis rst, Remainder, was an impossille-to-summarize medi-

tation on sellhood, with a super-wealthy man attempting to recreate a
single moment ol contentment. vhere the lileral-humanist sensilil-
ity has always held the literary work to le a lorm ol sell-expression, a
meticulous sculpting ol the thoughts and leelings ol an isolated indi-
vidual who has mastered his or her poetic cralt, a technologically savvy
sensilility might see it completely dierently: as a set ol transmissions,
ltered through suljects whom technology and the live word have rup-
tured, lroken open, made receptive. I know which side Im on: the more
looks I write, the more convinced I lecome that what we encounter in a
novel is not selves, lut networks.

I am not convinced alout the talk ol networks here; I think elds

gets it letter, a term that implies no stalle nodes at all; language is not
a network ol interconnected portals, it is a eld or manilold space with
instances ol local coherence only. But the general point is valid, even il
the polarity ol our responses is not yet clear. In .p6, lor example, it was
very clear to Rorthrop Frye that this same movement ol change was al-
ready aloot, lut his version ol the lileral-humanistic worldview did not
allow him to view the prospect with pleasure.
1he last stand ol privacy has always leen, traditionally, the inner
mind, Frye wrote in The Modern Century. It is quite possille however lor
communications media, especially the newer electronic ones, to lreak
down the associative structures ol the inner mind and replace them ly
the prelalricated structure ol the media. 1he extension ol the argument
is then that loss ol this inner mind makes a society prone to the worst
kind ol mol rule. 1his is not anarchy, or dictatorship, or police state. It
is rather the sell-policing state, the society incapalle ol lormulating an
articulate criticism ol itsell and ol developing the will to act in its light.

120 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches

Its impossille not to have sympathy with Fryes view here, especially
il one has hopes ol leing one ol those articulate critics. But too olten this
delate is cast in Hanichean terms ol anti-technology and pro-technol-
ogy, Luddite humanists versus net-savvy wireheads.
And it is certainly
the case that opportunistic cheerleaders ol change lor its own sake,
usually older than the people lor whom they claim to speak, will trumpet
new realities, new consciousness, new lorms ol intelligence in a manner
evidently aimed at provoking oljection, which can then le dismissed as
logeyish and square. Reither lact should llind us to the real helt in the
question, which goes well leyond the question ol reading as such. Allow
me to conclude ly making its political stakes explicit, in part as a mes-
sage to Sophie, who may someday read these words or others like them.
5 Human
1he great achievements ol lileral humanism include the lorm ol
prelerence-driven democracy that now oltains, at least in part, through-
out much ol the developed world. 1he same humanism has demanded
that non-trumpalle rights claims should hold even where that dem-
ocracy does not. On this view, .pps Iniversal Ieclaration ol Luman
Bights is the most signicant document ol the twentieth century and
indeed the culmination ol lour centuries ol thought and struggle to pry
power over daily lile lrom the hands ol dictators, lloodline sovereigns,
and calals. 1he presupposition here, whether in Lockes terms or Jeer-
sons, is that individuals exist and enjoy status prior to any state, and the
state is therelore in the service ol those individuals. A standard delence
ol literacy the right to read, metaphorically speaking, since it is not
usually enshrined as a right would, on such a conception, emphasize
that reading is itsell democratic. Literacy, especially ol the critical var-
iety, is the soltware ol citizenship, as essential to the lileral humanist
state as the virtues ol tolerance, respect, and discursive civility.
An opposing view, sometimes called anti-humanism, works lrom
dierent and, in some ways, more plausille presuppositions. vhat we
call individuals are really dividuals, constructions ol suljectivity that
emerge lrom lines ol lorce in desire, media ol communication, the polis
itsell. 1here is a striking consonance letween postmodern versions ol
this view and the lounding modernist himsell, 1homas Lolles. 1hey are
united in holding a position we should really call misanthropic human-
Mark Kingwell | 121
ism. 1he irony in the phrase how can one le saddened ly human loille
while celelrating the value ol the human wedges open a gap in the
sell-congratulations typical ol lileral humanism, its llithe condence
in the idea ol the individual. Hisanthropic humanism is a Grenzbegri, or
limit concept. It asks to question the illusions ol human existence even
as it acknowledges that existence as the only source ol meaning in the
Lolles is typically misconstrued as arguing in lavour ol personal
selshness and lreedom lrom government interlerence, as il he were
an American-style lilertarian. In lact, Lolles was a eld theorist. Lis
lasic atomism demands that all things, including human leings, are
conglomerations ol matter in motion, animated ly appetites and aver-
sions. vhen these are suciently complex, we call them desires, and
even virtues and vices. ve construct an idea ol sell as a lunction ol these
desires and then try to meet as many ol them as possille, consistent with
the same leing true ol others; lut this sell is, always, a construct. Gov-
ernment, in the lorm ol the sovereign, is necessary precisely lecause
we cannot regulate these desires ourselves. Lolles is not an advocate ol
dog-eat-dog markets; hes an advocate ol lig government.
1he Leviathan and surrendered power are Lolless political conclu-
sions lrom the inescapalle awareness ol the sell as an emergent prop-
erty ol desires in conict. Iierent responses to the same insight alout
constructed sellhood might well le innite delerral ol state authority,
anarchism, or provisional engagements lased on contingent value the
sorts ol political commitments more typical ol postmodern intellectuals.
1he worry that anti-humanism rols us ol agency, meanwhile, is revealed
as a garden path. ve are no more incapalle ol acting on this view than
on a deterministic account ol the physical world. In lact, the recognition
that action is predicated on the other, rather than the other way around,
is what makes such a view superior to the sincerity, authenticity, and
emotional resonance language typical ol humanism.
I say the misanthropic-humanist presupposition may le more plaus-
ille lecause the view ol sell shared ly anti-humanists old and new
seems more and more accurate to the ways we and our technology are
developing. 1hose changes are, alter all, what lrought us to the par-
ticular discursive space ol this look. But anti-humanism should not le
conlused with transhumanism or post-humanism, those celelrations
ol human-machine hylridity that seek transcendence in technology.
122 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
1hese aspirations to god-like status are ly nature exclusive, whereas
anti-humanism, though it does not lear technology, must le inclusive in
its relusal ol ego.
One is even tempted to call this simply genuine or
authentic humanism, lut the lorce ol contrast with neo-lileral ortho-
doxies would therely le lost, and anyway the language ol genuineness
and authenticity is itsell part ol what is rejected. vhat we seek here is a
revelation ol human limits as well as possililities, with technology as a
sort ol 1iresias. 1he reading question is just a trace or indicator ol this
larger point, and though I seem to have come to it the long way around, it
has in reality leen the topic all along.
1he standard delence ol old-school reading is that it promotes in-
wardness and slowness, as against the trivial extroversion and speed as-
sociated with contemporary culture, and thus helps cultivate the ironic
and compassionate cast ol mind we associate with lileral humanism. 1o
this mind, the narcissism ol today, together with its apparent empathy
decits, would le deploralle, a clear net loss. But what il this is a moment
ol evolutionary transition, lrom a humanist to an anti-humanist world
Row, narcissism and excessive entitlement are revealed as symptoms ol
increasingly desperate meconnaissance, to use Lacans lormulation.
1hese selves, in transition, are at once comprehensively networked and
isolated in pursuit ol sell. Language is the medium, not ol their sell-dis-
covery, as on the old model, lut ol their sell-delerral. 1he underlying
awareness, which can only grow, is that there is no sell lying in wait,
to le discovered and excavated ly the many lorms ol reading. 1here is
only the eld, the manilold, in which dierent positions can le, lor a
moment, occupied. Its called a tree lecause that is what we call it.
1he old view, rapidly lading, understood words and the discourse
we created ol them to le a sort ol pullic space, an agora. It was as il we
entered a civic square and, using the availalle accepted tools, made a
contrilution to the something shared ly all. Both reading and writing
looks were acts ol citizenship, even il (especially il) they also lrought
pleasure. 1hough looks can always le lought and sold, and though Hill
would speak metaphorically ol the marketplace ol ideas, discourse itsell
can never le reduced to transactions in a market.
1his view can no longer hold, lut not lecause reading is over. Bather,
the space ol human interaction itsell has changed, and with it the con-
tours ol those who are dened within its amlit. Luman leings are
always and already inside the eld ol discourse; this is not a matter ol
Mark Kingwell | 123
choice, even il reading this or that string ol words remains something we
choose. Iiscourse denes us, not the other way around. And so, mayle
unexpectedly, the anti-humanist view accords more value to reading
than the humanist one, which makes reading instrumental to other
values. 1he anti-humanist understands, as the humanist never can, how
necessary discourse is to the very idea ol sell an idea which, though
illusory, we need in order to exist. 1here is no sell without reading, le-
cause without the discourse that reading underwrites apt word' there
is no idea ol sell at all. 1here is no other way lor desire to reshape itsell,
again and again, into the directed and retroactive lorms we experience
as suljectivity.
1he insight is not new, even il the circumstances that lately lorce it
upon us are. 1he resulting paradox ol sellhood might well have leen in
the mind ol the translator Samuel iln 1illon, twellth-century scholar
lrom 1oledo, when he received a letter lrom his lather that read, in part:
Hake your looks your companions, let your cases and shelves le your
pleasure grounds and gardens. Bask in their paradise, gather their lruit,
pluck their roses, take their spices and myrrh. Il your soul le satiate
and weary, change lrom garden to garden, lrom lurrow to lurrow, lrom
prospect to prospect. 1hen will your desire renew itsell and your soul le
lled with delight.
As a translator, iln 1illon would have known intimately how uid
and vast, how restless and indeterminate, the eld ol discourse re-
mains even as our own apparently innite desires necessarily come to
an end. Its called a tree lecause it has to le called something. And when
we are gone, it will still le called a tree.
. It comes courtesy ol Bookavore (July .c.c). Some rules include: Every use
ol phrase real look - . drink. Ise ol old-lashioned also - . drink. Ex-
pert youve never heard ol lelore predicting revenue percentages - . drink.
Assertion that e-look prices are too high, and will lower soon - . drink.
Assertion that e-look prices are too low, and will rise soon - . drink. Ise ol
vague Amazon press release stats misleadingly - . drink.
. Beaders ol a certain age may recognize that the poet here is comedian Steve
Hartin, who used to perlorm a sketch in which he advocated messing with
children ly teaching them the wrong words lor things. 1he hapless child
124 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
then raises his hand in class and asks Hay I mamlo doglace to the lanana-
Castigations ol yunnies (young urlan narcissists) lor their sell-involve-
ment are now common to the point ol cliche. But an especially thoughtlul
assessment is oered ly critic Alan Kirly in 1he Ieath ol Postmodern-
ism and Beyond, Philosophy Now (.cc6; lor those readers who have com-
puters ha' see
Kirly suggests that the current age ol autism entails a shilt lrom post-
modern culture, which was suspicious ol authority and especially ol the idea
ol a single dominant reality, to pseudo-modern culture. Lere reality is
just me and my personal experience ol sell. Pseudo-modern culture thus
exhilits lamiliar pathologies: technologised cluelessness is utterly con-
temporary: the pseudo-modernist communicates constantly with the other
side ol the planet, yet needs to le told to eat vegetalles to le healthy, a lact
sell-evident in the Bronze Age. Le or she can direct the course ol national
television programmes, lut does not know how to make him- or hersell
something to eat a characteristic lusion ol the childish and the advanced,
the powerlul and the helpless.
A.R. vilson, Hearing Voices (Sinclair-Stevenson, .pp), ..c. 1his is the
lourth in a sequence ol ve novels known as the Lampitt Chronicles, all
narrated in the same rst-person voice, that ol actor and would-le liogra-
pher Julian Bamsay.
vilson is one ol these. Le has written liographies ol, among others, John
Hilton, Lilaire Belloc, and C.S. Lewis; his Lampitt novels, meanwhile,
amount to an extended meditation on the impossilility ol liography.
6 I owe this lormulation ol the issue to my lriend, the novelist Bussell Smith.
vhen his novel Girl Crazy was pullished in .c.c, even apparently intelli-
gent critics tended to assess it according to recorded morals ol the two main
characters. vorse, they attriluted attitudes contained in the narration
lree indirect third-person, in which an ostensilly external narrator com-
municates ideas ol the character leing descriled to the author. By a spe-
cious chain ol reasoning, then, characters aws - novels aws - authors
aws. Ley presto'
Its a nice coincidence, an amplitude ol noise amidst the search lor signal,
that one ol the main characters in C, the code-lreaking sister ol the main
character, who suers early sexual aluse and eventually commits suicide
ly poison, is called Sophie. For that matter, no doult many readers will
rememler that the .pp. philosophical novel Sophies World, ly Rorwegian
writer Jostein Gaarder, almost unreadally tedious, was nevertheless a huge
international lestseller one ol those looks, like the Larry Potter or Stieg
Larsson tomes, that everyone seemed to luy, il not read.
Mark Kingwell | 125
8 1om HcCarthy, 1echnology and the novel, lrom Blake to Ballard, The
Guardian (. July .c.c). HcCarthys general argument in this essay is that
the greatest modernist novels are engagements with technological net-
works, not people. 1he implied lut (mostly) unstated corollary is that pop-
ular ction ol our day is, instead, dominated ly cheap and unexamined hu-
manism. From an online post concerning his essay: alter all the Levinases
and Celans and Kalkas and their tortured lrilliance at thinking and writ-
ing their way around a traumatic century, to return to a regressive, kitsch
version ol nineteenth century lileral-humanism is a lorm ol revisionism.
People like HcEwan, who say we should just lrush o the dead hand ol
modernism, ll me with repulsion at every level.
p Rorthrop Frye, The Modern Century (Oxlord, .p6), 8 and , respectively.
.c A clear example ol this Hanichean tendency can le seen in Stephen Harche,
1he iPad and 1wenty-First-Century Lumanism, Queens Quarterly ..:.
(Summer .c.c), .p.c.. 1he author argues that text has lecome insul-
stantial (true il olvious) and then calls lor a renewal ol cosmopolitan hu-
manism in order to weed out the nutjols, to qualily, to humanize knowl-
edge (.c.) hopelul lut undemonstrated, and possilly lalse. 1he article
does not investigate the nature ol humanism; instead it concludes with la-
miliar complaints that the gerontocracy created in academia ly tenure and
the lack ol mandatory retirement means that [humanities] departments
can remain comlortally ensconced in their technopholia lor decades
(.c.). 1his sort ol rhetoric achieves nothing, mayle less than nothing.
.. I know, lecause I have oered versions ol this delence mysell more than
once. See, lor example, Kingwell, A Civil Tongue (Penn State, .pp), The
World We Want (\iking, .ppp), and 1he Shout Ioctrine, The Walrus (April
.c.c), .p.
.. 1here is perhaps no clearer expression ol the transhuman ego, with its
mixture ol narcissism and transcendentalism, than this quotation lrom
lormer advertising executive Alex Bogusky, who lelt a lucrative career to
cultivate his own sellhood (lrom Ianielle Sacks, Alex Bogusky 1ells All: Le
Lelt the vorlds Lottest Agency to Find Lis Soul, Fast Company [p August
.c.c]): I dont think were good at leing selsh. Host ol humanity, were
total rookies at leing selsh and leing narcissists. Because il youre really
good at narcissism, you get to the point where that rookie kind ol selsh
doesnt even exist. A really excellent narcissist would le a really powerlul
tool lor saving the planet. Il everyone was a perlect narcissist, there would
le nothing to worry alout lecause wed automatically x everything and
our purchases would le so lenign. Its not sell-alsorled, its just knowing
whats good lor sell. Lets say that steaks, scotch, and lots ol cigars are what
you put in your lody thats a rookie-narcissistic move. 1hats where were
126 | Physical and Philosophical Approaches
uneducated narcissists. But as we perlect our narcissism, it comes around
where youre actually doing things that leel like sharing, that leel like con-
nected lehavior. vhat
Poetic Readings
1heres no use trying, she said: one cant lelieve impossille
I daresay you havent had much practice, said the Queen. vhen
I was your age, I always did it lor hall-an-hour a day. vhy, sometimes
Ive lelieved as many as six impossille things lelore lreaklast.
Through the Looking-Glass, Chapter
vhy should we have lilraries lled with looks asked a smiling young
luturologist at a recent lilrary convention. (Futurology, lor those who
dont read science-ction, is a lranch ol electronics that lorecasts
luture technologies and their prospective uses.) vhy waste valualle
space to store endless masses ol printed text that can le easily enclosed
in a minuscule and resilient chip vhy lorce readers to travel all the way
to a lilrary, wait to nd out il the look they want is there, and, il it is,
lug it lack to keep lor a limited time only vhy deny readers access to
thousands ol titles that their nearest lilrary doesnt hold vhy yield to
the threats ol acid corrosion, lrittle lindings, lading ink, moths, mice,
and worms, thelt, re, and water when all ol Alexandria can le had at
your ngertips lrom the comlort ol any place you choose 1he truth is
that reading as we knew it is no longer a universal necessity, and lilrar-
ies should relinquish those nolle lut antiquated receptacles ol text we
call looks and adopt once and lor all the electronic text, as they once
The End of Reading*
Alberto Manguel
* From A Reader on Reading, ale Iniversity Press, .c.c. Beprinted with permission.
130 | Poetic Readings
relinquished clay tallets and parchment scrolls in lavour ol the codex.
Accept the inevitalle: the age ol Gutenlerg has come to an end.
Inlortunately, or lortunately, the speech I have paraphrased is lased
on a misconception. 1he notion ol a scattered lilrary relorn in all its
richness wherever a reader might nd himsell has a certain Pentecostal
loveliness, each reader receiving, like the re that rained on the apos-
tles lrom Leaven, the gilt ol numlerless tongues. But just as a certain
text is never expressed identically in dierent tongues, looks and elec-
tronic memories, like electronic memories and the memories we hold
in our mind, are dierent creatures and possess dierent natures, even
when the text they carry is the same. As I argued in Saint Augustines
Computer, they are instruments ol particular kinds, and their qualities
serve diverse purposes in our attempt to know the world. 1herelore any
opposition that lorces us to eliminate one ol them is worse than lalse: it
is useless. 1o le alle to nd, in seconds, a hall-rememlered quotation
lrom Statius or to le alle to read at a moments notice a recondite letter
lrom Plato is something almost anyone can do today, without the erudi-
tion ol Saint Jerome, thanks to the electronic technology. But to le alle
to retire with a dog-eared look, revisiting lamiliar haunts and scril-
lling on the margins over previous annotations, comlorted ly paper
and ink, is something almost anyone should still le alle to do, thanks
to the persistence ol the codex. Each technology has its own merits, and
therelore it may le more uselul to leave aside this crusading view ol the
electronic word vanquishing the printed one and explore instead each
technology according to its particular merits.
Perhaps it is in the nature ol traditional lilraries that, unlike the
human lrain, the container is less amlitious than the contents. ve are
told that the cerelral neurons are capalle ol much more knowledge than
however much inlormation we store in them, and that, in the maze ol
our loles, many ol the immeasuralle shelves running along our secret
corridors remain empty lor the whole ol our lives causing lilrarians
to lose their proverlial composure and seethe with righteous envy.
From lirth to death we accumulate words and images, emotions and
sensations, intuitions and ideas, compiling our memory ol the world,
and however much we lelieve that we cram our minds with experience,
there will always le space lor more, as in one ol those ancient parch-
ments known as palimpsests, on which new texts were written over the
old ones, again and again. vhat is the human lrain, asked Charles
Alberto Manguel | 131
Baudelaire in .86p, lut an immense and natural palimpsest Like
Baudelaires almost innite palimpsest, the lilrary ol the mind has no
discernille limits. In the lilraries ol stone and glass, however, in those
storerooms ol the memory ol society, space is always lacking, and in spite
ol lureaucratic restraint, reasoned selection, lack ol lunds, and willlul
or accidental destruction, there is never enough room lor the looks we
wish to keep. 1o remedy this constraint, thanks to our technical skills,
we have set up virtual lilraries lor which space approaches innity. But
even these electronic arks cannot rescue lor posterity more than certain
lorms ol the text itsell. In those ghostly lilraries, the concrete incarna-
tion ol the text is lelt lehind, and the esh ol the word has no existence.
\irtual lilraries have their advantages, lut that does not mean that
solid lilraries are no longer needed, however hard the electronics in-
dustry may try to convince us ol the contrary, however hard Google and
its lrethren may present themselves as philanthropical entities and not
as exploiters ol our intellectual patrimony. 1he vorld Iigital Lilrary, an
international lilrary supported loth ly txssco and ly the IS Lilrary
ol Congress, the Billiothque nationale de France, and other national
lilraries, is a colossal and important undertaking, and even though part
ol the lunding comes lrom Google, it is (lor the time leing) lree lrom
commercial concerns. Lowever, even when such remarkalle virtual li-
lraries are leing luilt, traditional lilraries are still ol the essence. An
electronic text is one thing, the identical text in a printed look is an-
other, and they are not interchangealle, any more than a recorded line
can replace a line emledded in an individual memory. Context, material
support, the physical history and experience ol a text are part ol the text,
as much as its vocalulary and its music. In the most literal sense, matter
is not immaterial.
And the prollems ol traditional lilraries liased selection and sul-
jective laleling, hierarchical cataloguing and its implied censorship, ar-
chival and circulating duties continue to le, in any society that deems
itsell literate, essential prollems. 1he lilrary ol the mind is haunted ly
the knowledge ol all the looks well never read and will therelore never
rightlully call ours; the collective memorial lilraries are haunted ly all
the looks that never made it into the circle ol the lilrarians elect: looks
rejected, alandoned, restricted, despised, lorlidden, unloved, ignored.
Following this pendular motion that rules our intellectual lile, one
question seems to tick away repeatedly, addressed loth to the reader
132 | Poetic Readings
who despairs at the lack ol time and to the society ol readers who despair
at the lack ol space: to what purpose do we read vhat is the reason lor
wanting to know more, lor reaching towards the ever-retreating horizon
ol our intellectual exploring vhy collect the looty ol such adventures
in the vaults ol our stone lilraries and in our electronic memories vhy
do it at all 1he question asked ly the keen luturologist can le deep-
ened, and rather than wonder, vhy is reading coming to an end (a sell-
lullling assumption), we might ask instead, vhat is the end ol reading
Perhaps a personal example may help us examine the question.
1wo weeks lelore the Christmas ol .cc8, I was told that I needed an
urgent operation, so urgent in lact that I had no time to pack. I lound
mysell lying in a pristine emergency room, uncomlortalle and anxious,
with no looks except the one I had leen reading that morning, Cees
Rootelooms delightlul In the Dutch Mountains, which I nished in the
next lew hours. 1o spend the lollowing lourteen days convalescing in a
hospital without any reading material seemed to me a torture too great to
lear, so when my partner suggested getting lrom my lilrary a lew looks,
I seized the opportunity gratelully. But which looks did I want
1he author ol Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger have taught us that lor ev-
erything there is a season; likewise, I might add, lor every season there
is a look. But readers have learned that not just any look is suited to any
occasion. Pity the soul who nds itsell with the wrong look in the wrong
place, like poor Boald Amundsen, discoverer ol the South Pole, whose
look lag sank under the ice, so that he was constrained to read, night
alter lreezing night, the only surviving volume: Ir. John Gaudens in-
digestille Portraiture of His Sacred Majesty in His Solitudes and Suerings.
Beaders know that there are looks lor reading alter lovemaking and
looks lor waiting in the airport lounge, looks lor the lreaklast talle and
looks lor the lathroom, looks lor sleepless nights at home and looks
lor sleepless days in the hospital. Ro one, not even the lest ol readers,
can lully explain why certain looks are right lor certain occasions and
why others are not. In some inealle way, like human leings, occasions
and looks mysteriously agree or clash with one another.
vhy, at certain moments in our lile, do we choose the companion-
ship ol one look over another 1he list ol titles Oscar vilde requested in
Beading Gaol included Stevensons Treasure Island and a French-Italian
conversation primer. Alexander the Great went on his campaigns with
a copy ol Lomers Iliad. John Lennons murderer thought it t to carry
Alberto Manguel | 133
J.I. Salingers The Catcher in the Rye when planning to commit his crime.
Io astronauts take Bay Bradlurys Martian Chronicles on their journeys
or, on the contrary, do they preler Andre Gides Les Nourritures terrestres
Iuring Hr. Bernard Hados prison sentence, will he demand Iick-
enss Little Dorrit to read alout how the emlezzler Hr. Herdle, unalle to
lear the shame ol leing lound out, cut his throat with a lorrowed razor
Pope Benedict \III, will he retire to his studiolo in the Castello SantAn-
gelo with a copy ol Bubu de Montparnasse, ly Charles-Louis Philippe,
to study how the lack ol condoms provoked a syphilis epidemic in
nineteenth-century Paris 1he practical G.K. Chesterton imagined that
il stranded on a desert island he would want to have with him a simple
shipluilding manual; under the same circumstances, the less practical
Jules Benard prelerred \oltaires Candide and Schillers Die Ruber.
And I, what looks would I choose lest to keep me company in my hos-
pital cell
1hough I lelieve in the olvious uselulness ol a virtual lilrary, Im not
a user ol e-looks, those modern incarnations ol the Assyrian tallets,
nor ol the Lilliputian iPods, nor the nostalgic Game Boys. I lelieve, as
Bay Bradlury put it, that the Internet is a lig distraction. Im accus-
tomed to the space ol a page and the solid esh ol paper and ink. I made
therelore a mental inventory ol the looks piled ly my led at home. I
discarded recent ction (too risky lecause yet unproven), liographies
(too crowded under my circumstances: hooked to a tangle ol drips, I
lound other peoples presence in my room annoying), scientic essays
and detective novels (too cerelral: much as Id recently leen enjoying
the Iarwinian renaissance and rereading classic crime stories, I lelt
that a detailed account ol selsh genes and the criminal mind would not
le the right medicine). I toyed with the idea ol startling the nurses with
Kier kegaards pain and suering: The Sickness unto Death. But no: what
I wanted was the equivalent ol comlort lood, something I had once en-
joyed and could repeatedly and eortlessly revisit, something that could
le read lor pleasure alone lut that would, at the same time, keep my
lrain alight and humming. I asked my partner to lring me my two vol-
umes ol Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Lars Gustalsson, in his moving novel Death of a Beekeeper, has his
narrator, Lars Lennart vestin, who is dying ol cancer, make a list ol art
lorms according to their level ol diculty. Foremost are the erotic arts,
lollowed ly music, poetry, drama, and pyrotechnics, and ending with
134 | Poetic Readings
the arts ol luilding lountains, lencing, and artillery. But one art lorm
cannot le tted in: the art ol learing pain. ve are therelore dealing
with a unique art lorm whose level ol diculty is so high, says vestin,
that no one exists who can practice it. vestin, perhaps, had not read
Don Quixote. Don Quixote is, I discovered with reliel, the perlect choice
lor learing pain. Opening it almost anywhere while waiting to le prod-
ded and pinched and drugged, I lound that the lriendly voice ol the eru-
dite Spanish soldier comlorted me with its reassurance that all would le
well in the end. Because ever since my adolescence Ive kept going lack
to Don Quixote, I knew I wasnt going to le tripped up ly the prodigious
surprises ol its plot. And since Don Quixote is a look that can le read just
lor the pleasure ol its invention, simply lor the sake ol the story, with-
out any olligation ol studiously analyzing its conundrums and rhetorical
digressions, I could allow mysell to drilt peacelully away in the narrative
ow, lollowing the nolle knight and his laithlul Sancho. 1o my rst high
school reading ol Don Quixote, guided ly Prolessor Isaias Lerner, I have,
over the years, added many other readings, in all sorts ol places and all
sorts ol moods. I read Don Quixote during my early years in Europe, when
the echoes ol Hay .p68 seemed to announce huge changes into some-
thing still unnamed and undened, like the idealized world ol chivalry
that the honest knight seeks on his quest. I read Don Quixote in the South
Pacic, trying to raise a lamily on an impossilly small ludget, leeling
a little mad in the alien Polynesian culture, like the poor knight among
the aristocrats. I read Don Quixote in Canada, where the countrys multi-
cultural society seemed to me appealingly quixotic in tone and style. 1o
these readings, and many others, I can now add a medicinal Don Quixote,
loth as a lalm and a consolation.
Rone ol these Don Quixotes can le lound, ol course, in any lilrary,
except in the one kept ly my diminishing memory. Karel apek, in his
wonderlul look on gardens, says that the art ol gardening can le re-
duced to one rule: you put into it more than you take out. 1he same can
le said ol the art ol lilraries. But the lilraries ol the material world,
however great their hunger, can only hoard existing volumes. ve know
that every look holds within it all its possille readings, past, present,
and luture, lut its Pythagorean reincarnations, those wonderlul lorms
which depend on readers to come, will not le lound on our shelves. Paul
Hasson, a lriend ol Colettes who worked at the Billiothque nationale
in Paris, noticed that the vast stocks ol the lilrary were decient in Latin
Alberto Manguel | 135
and Italian looks ol the lteenth century and so legan adding invented
titles on the ocial index cards to save, he said, the catalogues pres-
tige. vhen Colette naively asked him what was the use ol looks that
didnt exist, Hasson responded indignantly that he couldnt le expected
to think ol everything' But lilrarians must, and wishlul thinking
cannot, unlortunately, le granted room in a seriously run institution.
In the lilrary ol the mind, however, looks that have no material ex-
istence constantly cram the shelves: looks that are the amalgamation ol
other looks once read and now only imperlectly rememlered, looks
that annotate, gloss, and comment on others too rich to stand on their
own, looks written in dreams or in nightmares that now preserve the
tone ol those nelulous realms, looks that we know should exist lut
which have never leen written, autoliographical looks ol unspeakalle
experiences, looks ol unutteralle desires, looks ol once olvious and
now lorgotten truths, looks ol magnicent and inexpressille invention.
All editions ol Don Quixote pullished to date in every language can le
collected are collected, lor instance, in the lilrary ol the Instituto Cer-
vantes in Hadrid. But my own Don Quixotes, the ones that correspond
to each ol my several readings, the ones invented ly my memory and
edited ly my ollivion, can nd a place only in the lilrary ol my mind.
At times loth lilraries coincide. In chapter 6 ol the rst part ol Don
Quixote, the knights lilrary ol solid looks overlaps with the remem-
lered lilrary ol the priest and the larler who purge it; every volume
taken o the shelves is echoed in the recalled reading ol its censors and
is judged according to its past merits. Both the looks condemned to the
ames and the looks that are spared depend not on the words printed
llack on white in their pages lut on the words stored in the minds ol the
larler and the priest, placed there when they rst lecame the looks
readers. Sometimes their judgment depends on hearsay, as when the
priest explains that he has heard that the Amads de Gaula was the rst
novel ol chivalry printed in Spain and therelore, as lountainhead ol such
evil, it must lurn to which the larler retorts that he has heard that its
also the lest, and that lor that reason it must le lorgiven. Sometimes the
prior impression is so strong that it damns not only the look itsell lut
also its companions; sometimes the translation is condemned lut the
original is spared; sometimes a lew are not sent to the re lut merely re-
moved, so as not to aect their luture readers. 1he priest and the larler,
attempting to cleanse Ion Quixotes lilrary, are in lact molding it to the
136 | Poetic Readings
image ol the lilrary they themselves lear in mind, appropriating the
looks and turning them into whatever their own experience made them
up to le. It is not surprising that in the end the room in which the lilrary
is lodged is itsell walled up, so that it appears never to have existed, and
when the old knight wakes and asks to see it, he is told that it has simply
vanished. \anished it has, lut not through the magic ol an evil wizard
(as Ion Quixote suggests) lut through the power granted other readers
ol superimposing their own versions ol a look onto the looks owned ly
someone else. Every lilrary ol the solid world depends on the readings
ol those who came lelore us.
Iltimately, this creative hermeneutics denes the readers supreme
power: to make ol a look whatever ones experience, taste, intuition, and
knowledge dictate. Rot just anything, ol course, not the concoctions ol a
raving mind even though psychoanalysts and surrealists suggest that
these too have their validity and logic. But rather the intelligent and in-
spired reconstruction ol the text, using reason and imagination as lest
we can to translate it onto a dierent canvas, extending the horizon ol
its apparent meaning leyond its visille lorders and the declared inten-
tions ol the author. 1he limits ol this power are painlully vague: as I have
said lelore, Imlerto Eco suggested that they must coincide with the
limits ol common sense. Perhaps this arlitration is enough.
Limitless or not, the power ol the reader cannot le inherited; it must
le learned. Even though we come into the world as creatures intent
on seeking meaning in everything, in reading meanings in gestures,
sounds, colours, and shapes, the deciphering ol societys common code
ol communication is a skill that must le acquired. \ocalulary and syn-
tax, levels ol meaning, summary and comparison ol texts, all these are
techniques that must le taught to those who enter societys common-
wealth in order to grant them the lull power ol reading. And yet the last
step in the process must le learned all alone: discovering in a look the
record ol ones own experience.
Barely, however, is the acquisition ol this power encouraged. From
the elite schools ol scriles in Hesopotamia to the monasteries and
universities ol the Hiddle Ages, and later, with the wider distrilution
ol texts alter Gutenlerg and in the age ol the vel, reading at its lullest
has always leen the privilege ol a lew. 1rue, in our time, most people
in the world are supercially literate, alle to read an ad and sign their
name on a contract, lut that alone does not make them readers. Beading
Alberto Manguel | 137
is the alility to enter a text and explore it to ones lullest individual ca-
pacities, repossessing it in the act ol reinvention. But a myriad ol olsta-
cles (as I mentioned in my essay on Pinocchio) are placed in the way ol
its accomplishment. Precisely lecause ol the power that reading grants
the reader, the various political, economic, and religious systems that
govern us lear such imaginative lreedom. Beading at its lest may lead
to reection and questioning, and reection and questioning may lead
to oljection and change. 1hat, in any society, is a dangerous enterprise.
Lilrarians today are increasingly laced with a lewildering prollem:
users ol the lilrary, especially the younger ones, no longer know how
to read competently. 1hey can nd and lollow an electronic text, they
can cut paragraphs lrom dierent Internet sources and recomline them
into a single piece, lut they seem unalle to comment on and criticize
and gloss and memorize the sense ol a printed page. 1he electronic text,
in its very accessilility, lends users the illusion ol appropriation without
the attendant diculty ol learning. 1he essential purpose ol reading le-
comes lost to them, and all that remains is the collecting ol inlormation,
to le used when required. But reading is not achieved merely ly having a
text made availalle: it demands that its readers enter the maze ol words,
cut open their own tracks, and draw their own charts leyond the margins
ol the page. Ol course, an electronic text allows this, lut its very vaunted
inclusiveness makes it dicult to lathom a specic meaning and thor-
oughly explore specic pages. 1he text on the screen doesnt render
the readers task as olvious as the text in a material look, limited ly its
lorders and linding. Get anything, reads the ad lor a molile phone
alle to photograph, record voices, search the vel, transmit words and
images, receive and send messages, and, ol course, make phone calls.
But anything in this case stands dangerously near nothing. 1he ac-
quisition ol something (rather than anything) always requires selec-
tion and cannot rely on a limitless oer. 1o olserve, to judge, to choose
requires training, as well as a sense ol responsilility, even an ethical
stance. And young readers, like travelers who have only learned to drive
automatic cars, no longer seem alle to shilt gears at will, relying instead
on a vehicle that promises to take them everywhere.
At some point in our history, alter the invention ol a code that could
le communally written and read, it was discovered that the words, set
down in clay or on papyrus ly an author perhaps distant loth in time
and in space, could le not only whatever the common code proclaimed
138 | Poetic Readings
say, a numler ol goats lor sale or a proclamation ol war. It was discov-
ered that those goats, invisille to the senses ol those who now read alout
them, lecame the goats ol the readers experience, goats perhaps once
seen on the lamily larm, or demon goats glimpsed in a haunting dream.
And that the proclamation ol war could le read not merely as a call to
arms lut perhaps as a warning, or as an appeal lor negotiation, or as lra-
vado. 1he text inscriled was the product ol a particular will and intelli-
gence, lut the reading ol that text did not need sulserviently to lollow,
or even attempt to guess at, the originating intelligence and will.
At that point, what readers discovered was that the instrument in
which their society chose to communicate, the language ol words, un-
certain and vague and amliguous, lound its strength precisely in that
amliguity and vagueness and imprecision, in its miraculous alility to
name without conning the olject to the word. In writing goats or war,
the author meant no doult something alsolutely specic, lut the reader
was now alle to add to that specicity the reections ol vast herds and
the echoes ol a possille peace. Every text, lecause it is made out ol
words, says what it has to say and also volumes more that its author could
ever have conceived, volumes that luture readers will compile and col-
lect, sometimes as solid texts that in turn will lreed others, sometimes
as texts written hall awake and hall asleep, uid texts, shilting texts
hoarded in the lilrary ol the mind.
In the thirty-second chapter ol the rst part ol Don Quixote, the inn-
keeper, who has given the exhausted hero a led lor the night, argues with
the priest alout the merits ol novels ol chivalry, saying that he is unalle
to see how such looks could make anyone lose his mind.
I dont know how that can le, explains the innkeeper, since, as I
understand it, theres no letter reading in the world, and over there I
have two or three ol these novels, together with some other papers,
which, I truly lelieve, have preserved not only my lile lut also that ol
many others; lor in harvest time, a great numler ol reapers come here,
and theres always one who can read, and who takes one ol these looks
in his hands, and more than thirty ol us gather around him, and we sit
there listening to him with such pleasure that it makes us all grow young
1he innkeeper himsell lavours lattle scenes; a local whore prelers
stories ol romantic courtship; the innkeepers daughter likes lest ol
all the lamentations ol the knights when alsent lrom their ladies. Each
Alberto Manguel | 139
listener (each reader) translates the text into his or her own experience
and desire, eectively taking possession ol the story which, lor the cen-
soring priest, causes readers like Ion Quixote to go mad, lut which, ac-
cording to Ion Quixote himsell, provides glowing examples ol honest
and just lehaviour in the real world. One text, a multiplicity ol readings,
a shelul ol looks derived lrom that one text read out loud, increasing at
each turned page our hungry lilraries, il not always those ol paper, cer-
tainly those ol the mind: that too has leen my happy experience.
I am deeply gratelul to my Don Quixote. Over the two hospital weeks,
the twin volumes kept vigil with me: they talked to me when I wanted
entertainment, or waited quietly, attentively, ly my led. 1hey never le-
came impatient with me, neither sententious nor condescending. 1hey
continued a conversation legun ages ago, when I was someone else, as il
they were indierent to time, as il taking lor granted that this moment
too would pass, and their readers discomlort and anxiety, and that only
their rememlered pages would remain on my shelves, descriling some-
thing ol my own, intimate and dark, lor which as yet I had no words.
an entire epoch ol so-called literature, il not all ol it, cannot
survive a certain technological regime ol telecommunications (in this
respect the political regime is secondary). Reither can philosophy, or
psychoanalysis. Or love letters.
Jacques Ierrida, Envois, in The Post Card
By we in my title I mean we students, teachers, and the ordinary cit-
izens ol our glolal village, il such a term still means anything. By
read I mean carelul attention to the text at hand, that is, close read-
ing. By literature I mean printed novels, poems, and plays. By now I
mean the hot summer ol .c.c, the culmination ol the hottest six months
on record, clear evidence lor those who have lodies to leel ol glolal
warming. I mean also the time ol a larely receding glolal nancial crisis
and worldwide deep recession. I mean the time ol desktop computers,
the Internet, iPhones, iPads, nvns, nvs, Facelook, 1witter, Google,
computer games ly the thousands, television, and a glolal lm indus-
try. I mean the time when colleges and universities are, in the Inited
States at least, losing lunding and are shilting more and more to a cor-
porate model. As one result ol these changes, seventy per cent ol uni-
versity teaching is now done ly adjuncts, that is, ly people who not only
do not have tenure lut who also have no possilility ol getting it. 1hey
are not tenure track. By now I mean a time when calls on all sides,
lrom President Olama on down in the government and ly the media lelt
Cold Heaven, Cold Comfort:
Should We Read or Teach Literature Now?
J. Hillis Miller
J. Hillis Miller | 141
and right, are leing made lor more and letter teaching ol math, science,
and engineering, while hardly anyone calls lor more and letter teaching
in the humanities. 1he humanities, as a high administrator at Larvard,
perhaps its then president, Lawrence Summers, is reported to have said,
are a lost cause.
Should or ought we to read or teach literature in such a now Is it
an ethical olligation to do so Il so, which works Low should these le
read, and who should teach them
Iuring the nineteen years I taught at the Johns Lopkins Iniversity,
lrom .p to .p., I would have had ready answers to these questions.
1hese answers would have represented our unquestioned consensus at
Lopkins alout the nature and mission ol the humanities. A (somewhat
alsurd) ideological delense ol literary study, especially study ol British
literature, was pretty rmly in place at Lopkins during those years. ve
in the English Iepartment had easy consciences lecause we thought we
were doing two things that were good lor the country: a) teaching young
citizens the lasic American ethos (primarily ly way ol the literature ol
a loreign country [England] we deleated in a revolutionary war ol in-
dependence; the alsurdity ol that project only recently got through to
me); l) doing research that was like that ol our scientic colleagues in
that it was nding out the truth alout the elds covered ly our disci-
plines: languages, literatures, art, history, philosophy. Veritas vos lib-
erabit, the truth shall make you lree, is the motto ol Lopkins (a quota-
tion lrom the Bille, ly the way, something said ly Jesus [John 8: .],
in which truth hardly means scientic truth). Lux et veritas, light and
truth, is the motto ol ale. Just plain Veritas is Larvards slogan. 1ruth,
we at Lopkins lelieved, having lorgotten the source ol our motto, in-
cluded oljective truth ol every sort, lor example the truth alout the early
poetry ol Allred 1ennyson or alout the poetry ol Barnaly Googe. Such
truth was a good in itsell, like knowledge ol llack holes or ol genetics.
Lopkins, as is well-known, was the rst institution to le designated
exclusively a research university in the Inited States. It was lounded
on the model ol the great German research universities ol the nine-
teenth century. In literary study that meant inheritance ol the German
tradition ol Bomance Philology, Germanic Philology (which included
English literature), and Classical Philology, all ol which ourished at
Lopkins. Such research needed no lurther justication leyond the
intrinsic value accorded to the search lor truth and the not entirely
142 | Poetic Readings
persuasive assumption that humanities scholars who were doing that
kind ol research would le letter teachers ol literature as the precious
repository ol our national values. 1he word research was our collect-
ive leitmotil. Every prolessor at Lopkins was supposed to spend lty per
cent ol his (we were almost all men) time doing research in his eld ol
specialty. 1hat included humanities prolessors.
Lopkins was to an amazing degree run ly the prolessors, or at least
it seemed so to us. Prolessors made decisions alout hiring, promotion,
and the estallishment ol new programs through a group called the Aca-
demic Council. 1hey were elected ly the laculty. 1hough there was no
estallished quota, the Council always included humanists and social
scientists as well as scientists. 1hat means the scientists, who could have
outvoted the humanists, were cheerlully electing humanists. Outside
support lor research at Lopkins came not lrom industry, lut primar-
ily lrom government agencies like the Rational Science Foundation,
the Rational Institutes ol Lealth, the Rational Ielense Education Act,
and the Rational Endowment lor the Lumanities. ve lenetted greatly
lrom the Cold var mentality that thought the Inited States should le
lest in everything, including even the humanities. Rone ol the teaching
was done ly adjuncts, though graduate students taught composition and
discussion sections ol large lecture courses. Host students who received
the vhn oltained good tenure track appointments. Hisleading statis-
tics even indicated that a shortage ol vhns in the humanities was alout
to happen, so the English Iepartment at Lopkins lriey instituted a
three-year vhn in that eld. 1wo ol my own students nished such a
vhn and went on to hold prolessorships at important universities. 1hat
shows a vhn in English need not take twelve years or more, the average
time today.
Lopkins was in my time there a kind ol paradise lor prolessors who
happened to le interested in research as well as in teaching. Lopkins
then was the closest thing I know to Jacques Ierridas nolly idealistic
vision in .cc. ol a university without condition, a university centred
on the humanities and devoted to a disinterested search lor truth in
all areas. It is a great irony that Ierridas little look was delivered as a
Presidents Lecture at Stanlord Iniversity, since Stanlord is one ol the
great Inited States elite private universities that is and always has leen
deeply intertwined with corporate America and, ly way ol the Loover
Institution, located at Stanlord, with the most conservative side ol
American politics.
J. Hillis Miller | 143
vell, what was wrong with Lopkins in those halcyon days Quite a
lot. Practically no women were on the laculty, not even in non-tenured
positions not a single one in the English Iepartment during all my
nineteen years at Lopkins. 1he education ol graduate students in Eng-
lish was lrutally competitive, with a high rate ol attrition, olten ly way
ol withdrawal ly the laculty ol lellowship lunds initially granted to stu-
dents who were later judged not to le perlorming well. Some students
we encouraged to leave took vhns elsewhere and had lrilliant careers
as prolessors ol English. Lopkins, nally, was up to its ears in military
research at the Applied Physics Laloratory. 1he Johns Lopkins School
ol Advanced International Studies was not then, and still is not today,
what one would call a model ol lileral thinking. Even so, Lopkins was
a wonderlul place to le a prolessor ol the humanities in the lties and
Row, over lty years later, everything is dierent in IS universities and
colleges lrom what it was at Lopkins when I taught there, as almost every-
one involved knows quite well. Even in the lties and sixties Lopkins
was the exception, not the rule. Rowadays, over seventy per cent ol the
teaching, as I have said, is done ly adjuncts without prospects ol tenure.
Olten they are delilerately kept at appointments just lelow hall-time,
so they do not have medical lenets, pension contrilutions, or other
lenets. All three ol my children hold doctorates, as does one grand-
child, and none ol the lour has ever held a tenure track position, much
less achieved tenure. 1enure track positions in the humanities are lew
and lar letween, with hundreds ol applicants lor each one, and an ever-
accumulating reservoir ol unemployed humanities vhns. Funding lor
the humanities has shrunk loth at pullic and private colleges and uni-
versities, as has nancial support lor universities and colleges generally.
Books ly Harc Bousquet, Christopher Reweld, and Frank Ionoghue,

among others, have told in detail the story ol the way IS universities have
come to le run more and more like corporations governed ly the nan-
cial lottom line, or, as Peggy Kamul puts it, the lang lor the luck.

1he humanities cannot le shown to produce much lang at all. Iniver-
sities have consequently lecome more and more trade schools oer-
ing vocational training lor positions in lusiness, engineering, liology,
law, medicine, or computer science. 1he weakening ol American pullic
universities has leen accompanied ly a spectacular rise in lor-prot
144 | Poetic Readings
and partly online universities like the Iniversity ol Phoenix. 1hese are
openly committed to training that will get you a jol. John Sperling, the
head ol the Apollo Group that developed the Iniversity ol Phoenix, says
that Phoenix is a corporation Coming here is not a rite ol passage.
ve are not trying to develop [students] value systems or go in lor that
expand their minds lullshit.

1he president ol ale Iniversity, Bichard

Levin, an economist, in a recent lecture given lelore the Boyal Society
in London, 1he Bise ol Asias Iniversities,

enthusiastically praises
China lor more than doulling its institutions ol higher education (lrom
.,c.. to .,.6), lor increasing the numler ol higher education students
lrom . million in .pp to more than . million in .cc, and lor setting
out delilerately to create a numler ol world-class research universities
that will rank with Larvard, ns, Oxlord, and Camlridge. 1he numlers
Levin cites are no doult lar higher now. Levins emphasis, however, is all
on the way Chinas increased teaching ol math, science, and engineer-
ing will make it more highly competitive in the glolal economy than it
already is. Levin, in spite ol ales notorious strength in the humanities,
says nothing whatsoever alout humanities teaching or its utility either
in China or in the Inited States. Clearly the humanities are ol no ac-
count in the story he is telling. It is extremely dicult to demonstrate
that humanities departments lring any nancial return at all or that
majoring in English is preparation lor anything lut a low-level service
jol or a low-paying jol teaching English. Hany students at elite places
like ale could salely major in the humanities lecause they would take
over their lathers lusiness when they graduated, or would go on to law
school or lusiness school and get their vocational training there. Lile-
long lriendships with others who would come to le important in lusi-
ness, government, or the military were in any case more important than
any vocational training. 1he presidential race letween George v. Bush
and John Kerry was, somewhat alsurdly, letween two men who did not
do all that well academically at ale lut who were memlers ol ales most
elite secret society, Skull and Bones. vhoever won, ale and the political
power ol the Skull and Bones network would win.
Enrollments in humanities courses and numlers ol majors have, not
surprisingly, especially at less elite places, shrunk to a tiny percentage ol
the undergraduate and graduate population.

Only composition and le-

ginning language courses plus required distrilution courses are doing
well in the humanities. Legislators, loards ol trustees, and university
J. Hillis Miller | 145
administrators have taken advantage ol the recent catastrophic reces-
sion to take more control over universities, to downsize and to manage
what is taught. 1he state ol Calilornia, lor example, is lroke. 1hat has
meant lrozen positions, reduced adjunct lunding, and salary reductions
lor laculty and sta in the great Iniversity ol Calilornia system ol le-
tween ve and ten per cent, depending on rank. 1eaching loads are leing
increased lor alove scale prolessors, that is, lor the ones who have done
the most distinguished research and who have leen rewarded ly leing
given more time to do that. 1he humanities have especially suered.
1his is the not-entirely cheerlul situation in which my question, Should
we read or teach literature now Io we have an ethical olligation to do
so must le asked and an attempt to answer it made. Low did this dis-
appearance ol the justication lor literary study happen I suggest three
(.) 1he conviction that everylody ought to read literature lecause it
emlodies the ethos ol our citizens has almost completely vanished. Few
people any longer really lelieve, in their heart ol hearts, that it is ne-
cessary to read Beowulf, Shakespeare, Hilton, Samuel Johnson, vords-
worth, Iickens, vooll, and Conrad in order to lecome a good citizen ol
the Inited States.
(.) A massive shilt in dominant media away lrom printed looks to
all lorms ol digital media, what I call prestidigitalization, has meant
that literature in the old-lashioned sense ol printed novels, poems,
and dramas plays a smaller and smaller role in determining the ethos
ol our citizens. Hiddle-class readers in \ictorian England learned how
to lehave in courtship and marriage ly entering into the ctive worlds
ol novels ly Charles Iickens, George Eliot, Anthony 1rollope, Eliza-
leth Gaskell, and many others. Row people satisly their needs lor im-
aginary or virtual realities ly watching lms, television, nvns, playing
computer games, and listening to popular music. It was recently an-
nounced (.p July .c.c) ly Amazon that lor the rst time they are selling
more e-looks to le read on iPads or the Kindle than hardcover printed
looks. A high point ol this summer lor a colleague and lriend ol mine in
Rorway, a distinguished humanities prolessor, has leen his trip to Bot-
terdam to hear a Stevie vonder concert at the Rorth Sea Jazz Festival,
lollowed ly repeat perlormance ol the same concert in his home town ol
146 | Poetic Readings
Bergen. Le emails me with great excitement and enthusiasm alout these
concerts. Stevie vonder is olviously ol great importance in shaping this
humanists ethos. vhenever I give a lecture on some literary work in
any place in the world, memlers ol my audience, especially the younger
ones, always want to ask me questions alout the lm ol that work, il a
lm has leen made.
() 1he rise ol new media has meant more and more the sulstitution
ol cultural studies lor old-lashioned literary studies. It is natural lor
young people to want to teach and write alout things that interest them,
lor example, lm, popular culture, womens studies, Alrican-American
studies, and so on. Hany, il not most, IS departments ol English these
days are actually departments ol cultural studies, whatever they may go
on calling themselves. Little literature is taught these days in American
departments ol English. Soon Chinese students ol English literature,
American literature, and worldwide literature in English will know
more alout these than our indigenous students do. A recent list ol new
looks pullished at the Iniversity ol Hinnesota Press in Literature and
Cultural Studies did not have one single look on literature proper. Just
to give three examples out ol hundreds ol career-orientation shilts:
Edward Said legan as a specialist on the novels and short stories ol
Joseph Conrad. Le went on to write a look that is theory-oriented,
Beginnings, lut his great lame and inuence rests on political looks
like Orientalism, The Question of Palestine, and Culture and Imperialism.
Second, quite dierent, example: Joan IeJean is a distinguished proles-
sor ol romance languages at the Iniversity ol Pennsylvania, lut she does
not write alout French literature in the old-lashioned sense ol plays ly
Bacine, novels ly Harivaux or Flaulert, poems ly Baudelaire, or novels
ly Iuras (all men lut Iuras, please note). Ler inuential looks include,
among others, The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion,
Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and The Age of Comfort: When
Paris Discovered Casual and the Modern Home Began. In short, Proles-
sor IeJean does cultural studies, with a leminist slant. 1hird example:
Frank Ionoghue legan his career as a specialist in eighteenth-century
English literature. Le pullished in .pp6 a ne look on The Fame Ma-
chine: Book Reviewing and Eighteenth-Century Literary Careers. Around
.ccc Ionoghue shilted to an interest in the current state ol the human-
ities in American universities. In .cc8 he pullished The Last Professors:
The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. Row he lectures
J. Hillis Miller | 147
lrequently all over the Inited States as an expert on the corporatizing ol
the American university.
I have lriey sketched the present-day situation in the Inited States
within which the question Should ve Bead or 1each Literature Row
must le asked: smaller and smaller actual inuence ol literature on
common culture; lewer and lewer prolessors who teach literature as op-
posed to cultural studies; lewer and lewer tenured prolessors ol litera-
ture in any case; lewer and lewer looks ol literary criticism pullished,
and tiny sales lor those that are pullished; radically reduced enrollment
in literature courses in our colleges and universities; rapid reduction
ol literature departments to service departments teaching composition
and the rudiments ol loreign languages and loreign cultures.
1he usual response ly emlattled humanists is to wring their hands,
lecome delensive, and say literature ought to le taught lecause we
need to know our cultural past, or need to expand our minds, or need
the ethical teaching we can get lrom literary works. Presidents ol the
Hodern Language Association ol America have in their presidential ad-
dresses over the decades echoed what Hatthew Arnold said alout the
need to know, as he puts it in Culture and Anarchy (.86p) the lest that
has leen thought and said in the world. Bolert Scholes, lor example, in
his .cc ns Presidential address, asserted: ve need to show that our
learning is worth something ly lroadening the minds ol our students
and helping our lellow citizens to more thoughtlul interpretations ol the
crucial texts that shape our culture ve have nothing to oer lut the
sweetness ol reason and the light ol learning.

Sweetness and light

is ol course Arnolds repeated phrase, in Culture and Anarchy, lor what
culture gives. 1hat look was required reading in the Freshman English
course all students took at Olerlin College when I lecame a student
there in .p.
I think the nolle Arnoldian view ol the lenets ol literary study is
pretty well dead and gone these days. For one thing, we now recognize
more clearly how prollematic and heterogeneous the literary tradition
ol the vest actually is. It ly no means teaches some unied ethos, and
many ol its greatest works are hardly uplilting, including, lor example,
Shakespeares King Lear. Alout reading King Lear, the poet John Keats
said in a sonnet, On Sitting Iown to Bead King Lear Once Again: For
148 | Poetic Readings
once again the erce dispute, / Betwixt damnation and impassiond clay
/ Hust I lurn through.

As lor Keats himsell, Hatthew Arnold wrote

to his lriend Clough, vhat a lrute you were to tell me to read Keats
letters. Lowever, it is over now: and reexion resumes her power over

Reither work seemed to their readers all that edilying. Ror

is American literature much letter. Ol one ol our great classics, Moby
Dick, its author, Lerman Helville, said, I have written a wicked look.
Furthermore, it is not at all clear to me how reading Shakespeare, Keats,
Iickens, vhitman, eats, or vallace Stevens is any use in helping our
students to deal with the urgent prollems that conlront us all these
days in the Inited States: climate change that may soon make the spe-
cies homo sapiens extinct; a deep glolal recession and catastrophic un-
employment (. million out ol work) lrought on ly the lolly and greed ol
our politicians and nanciers; news media like Fox Rews that are more
or less lying propaganda arms ol our right wing party lut are lelieved in
as truth ly many innocent citizens; an endless and unwinnalle war in
Alghanistan we all know these prollems. oung people in the Inited
States need to get training that will help them get a jol and avoid starving
to death. 1hey might lenet lrom courses that would teach them how
to tell truth lrom lalsehood on Internet postings.
vell, why should
we read and teach literature now, in these dire circumstances I shall
return to this question.
In order to make this question less alstract, I shall conlront my ques-
tion ly way ol a short poem ly v.B. eats. I greatly admire this poem.
It moves me greatly. It moves me so much that I want not only to read it
lut also to teach it and talk alout it to anyone who will listen. 1he poem
is called 1he Cold Leaven. It is lrom eatss volume ol poems ol .p.6,
Responsibilities. Lere is the poem:
Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
1hat seemed as though ice lurned and was lut the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought ol that and this
\anished, and lelt lut memories, that should le out ol season
vith the hot llood ol youth, ol love crossed long ago;
And I took all the llame out ol all sense and reason,
Intil I cried and tremlled and rocked to and lro,
Biddled with light. Ah' when the ghost legins to quicken,
J. Hillis Miller | 149
Conlusion ol the death-led over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the looks say, and stricken
By the injustice ol the skies lor punishment

I long ago wrote a lull essay on this poem.
I have discussed it lriey
again more recently at a conlerence on vorld Literature at Shanghai
Jiao 1ong Iniversity. At Jiao 1ong I used eatss poem as an example ol
how dicult it is to transler a poem lrom one culture to a dierent one.
Row I want to consider the poem as a paradigmatic exemplication ol
the diculties ol deciding whether we should read or teach literature
now. Should I read or teach this poem now Hy answer is that there is
no should alout it, no compelling olligation or responsilility. I can
read or teach it il I like, lut that decision cannot le justied ly anything
leyond the call the poem itsell makes on me to read it and teach it. Least
ol all do I think I can tell students or administrators with a straight lace
that reading the poem or hearing me teach it is going to help them nd
a jol, or help them mitigate climate change, or help them resist the lies
told ly the media, though I suppose leing a good reader might conceiv-
ally aid resistance to lies. Beading the poem or teaching it is, however,
a good in itsell, an end in itsell, as Kant said all art is. 1he mystical poet
Angelus Silesius (.6..6) armed, in The Cherubic Wanderer, that
1he rose is without why. Like that rose, 1he Cold Leaven is without
why. 1he poem, like a rose, has no reason lor leing leyond itsell. ou
can read it or not read it, as you like. It is its own end. oung people these
days who watch lms or play computer games or listen to popular music
do not, lor the most part, attempt to justily what they do. 1hey do it le-
cause they like to do it and lecause it gives them pleasure. Hy academic
lriend lrom Bergen did not try to justily his great pleasure and excite-
ment in hearing at great expense the same Stevie vonder concert twice,
once in Botterdam and once again in Bergen. Le just emailed me his
great enthusiasm alout the experience. It was a lig deal lor him, just as
reading, talking, or writing alout eatss 1he Cold Leaven is a lig deal
lor me. 1hat importance, however, is something I should not even try to
justily ly its practical utility. Il I do make that attempt I am lound to lail.
A natural response when I see a lm I like or hear a concert that
moves me is to want to tell other people alout it, as my correspondent
in Bergen wanted to tell everylody alout those Stevie vonder concerts.
1hese tellings most olten take the lorm, vow' I saw a wonderlul movie
150 | Poetic Readings
last night. Let me tell you alout it. I suggest that my desire to teach
eatss 1he Cold Leaven takes much the same lorm: vow' I have just
read a wonderlul poem ly eats. Let me read it to you and tell you alout
it. 1hat telling, naturally enough, takes the lorm ol wanting to pass on
what I think other readers might nd helplul to lead them to respond to
the poem as enthusiastically as I do.
I list, in an order lollowing that ol the poem, some ol the things that
might need to le explained not only to a Chinese reader, lut also, no
doult, to a computer-games-playing vestern young person ignorant ol
European poetry. Iavid Iamrosch recognizes with equanimity, as do I,
that when a given piece ol literature circulates into a dierent culture
lrom that ol its origin, it will le read dierently. I am not talking here,
however, alout a high-level culturally emledded reading, lut just alout
making sense ol eatss poem. 1his need to make sense might arise, lor
example, in trying to decide how to translate this or that phrase into
Chinese. Lere are some things it might le good to know when trying
to understand 1he Cold Leaven: (.) Something alout eatss lile and
works; (.) An explanation ol the verse lorm used: three iamlic hexam-
eter quatrains rhyming alal. Is it an odd sort ol sonnet in hexameters
rather than pentameters, and missing the last couplet; () Knowledge
ol the recurrent use ol sudden or suddenly in eatss lyrics; () vhat
sort ol lird a rook is and why they are delighted ly cold weather; () 1he
doulle meaning ol heaven, as skies and as the supernatural realm
leyond the skies, as in the opening ol the Lords Prayer, said daily ly
millions ol Christians: Our Father who art in heaven; compare skies
at the end: the injustice ol the skies lor punishment; (6) An explana-
tion ol oxymorons (lurning ice) and ol the history in vestern poetry ol
this particular one; () Attempt to explain the semantic dierence le-
tween imagination and heart, as well as the nuances ol each word;
(8) Explanation ol crossed in memories ol love crossed long ago,
loth the allusion to Shakespeares Bomeo and Juliet as star-crossed
lovers, that is, as lated ly the stars to disaster in love, and the relerence
to the liographical lact ol eatss disastrous love lor Haud Gonne: she
turned him down repeatedly, so it is to some degree alsurd lor him to
take responsilility lor the lailure ol their love; he did his lest to woo
her; (p) Account ol the dierence letween sense and reason in I
took the llame out ol all sense and reason, or is this just tautological
J. Hillis Miller | 151
A. Rorman Jeares cites 1.B. Lenns explanation that out ol all sense
is an Irish (and amliguous) expression meaning loth to an extent lar
leyond what common sense could justily and leyond the reach ol sen-
(.c) Explanation ol the doulle meaning ol the verl riddle in
the marvelous phrase, riddled with light: riddle as punctured with
holes and riddle as having a perhaps unanswered riddle or conun-
drum posed to one; leing riddled with light is paradoxical lecause light
is supposed to le illuminating, not olscuring; (..) Insnarling ol the
lines centering on quicken in when the ghost [meaning disemlodied
soul] legins to quicken, / Conlusion ol the death led over; quicken
usually relers to the coming to lile ol the lertilized egg in the woml, so
an erotic love-led scene is superimposed on the death-led one; (..) as
the looks say: which looks; (.) Belate injustice ol the skies lor pun-
ishment to the usual assumption that heaven only punishes justly, gives
us our just desserts alter death; why and how can the skies le unjust By
llaming him lor something that was not his lault Belate this to Greek
and later tragedy. It is not Oedipuss lault that he has killed his lather
and lathered children on his mother, or is it; (.) vhy is the last sen-
tence a question Is it a real question or a merely rhetorical one vould
the answer nd its place il the llank that lollows the twelve lines ol this
delective sonnet were lled 1he poem seems loth too much in line
lengths and too little in numler ol lines; (.) Finally, Chinese readers
might like to know, or might even olserve on their own, that eats, like
other European poets ol his generation, was inuenced in this poem and
elsewhere ly what he knew, through translations, ol Chinese poetry and
Chinese ways ol thinking. 1he volume Responsibilities, which contains
1he Cold Leaven, has an epigraph lrom someone eats calls, some-
what pretentiously, Khoung-Fou-1seu, presumally Conlucius: Low
am I lallen lrom mysell, lor a long time now / I have not seen the Prince
ol Chang in my dreams (Variorum Poems, .6p). Chinese readers might
have a lot to say alout this Chinese connection and alout how it makes
1he Cold Leaven a work ol world literature.
All this inlormation would le given to my hearers or readers, how-
ever, not to expand their minds, lut in the hope that it might help them
admire the poem as much as I do and le moved ly it as much as I am.
eatss poem can hardly le descriled as uplilting, since its thematic
climax is a claim that the skies are unjust and punish people lor things
152 | Poetic Readings
ol which they are not guilty. 1hat is a terrilying wisdom. 1elling others
alout this poem is not something I should do lut something I cannot
help doing, something the poem urgently calls on me to do.
Io I think much luture exists in American colleges and universities
or in our journals and university presses lor such readings Ro, I do not.
I think this dimming ol the luture lor literary studies has leen lrought
alout partly ly the turning ol our colleges and universities into trade
schools, preparation lor getting a jol, institutions that have less and less
place lor the humanities, lut perhaps even more ly the amazingly rapid
development ol new teletechnologies that are last making literature ol-
solete, a thing ol the past. Even many ol those who could teach literature,
who were hired to do so, choose rather to teach cultural studies instead:
lashion design, or the history ol vestern imperialism, or lm, or some
one or another among those myriad other interests that have replaced
I add in conclusion, however, somewhat timidly and tentatively, one
possille use studying literature and literary theory might have, or ought
to have, in these lad days. Citizens, in the Inited States at least, are
these days inundated with a torrent ol distortions and outright lies lrom
politicians, the news media, and advertising on television and radio.
Even my local pullic television station, supposedly oljective, runs daily
and repeatedly, an advertisement in which the giant oil company, Chev-
ron, promotes itsell under the slogan ol 1he Power ol Luman Energy.
A moments thought reveals that Chevrons interest is in energy lrom oil,
not human energy. Chevron is devoted to getting as much money as it
can (lillions and lillions ol dollars a year) ly extracting lossil luels out
ol the earth and therely contriluting lig time to glolal warming. 1he
advertisement is a lie. Learning how to read literature rhetorically is
primary training in how to spot such lies and distortions. 1his is so partly
lecause so much literature deals thematically with imaginary characters
who are wrong in their readings ol others, lor example Elizaleth Ben-
nett in her misreading ol Iarcy in Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice or
Iorothea Brookes misreading ol Edward Casaulon in George Eliots
Middlemarch, or Isalel Archers misreading ol Gillert Osmond in Lenry
Jamess The Portrait of a Lady. Literature is also training in resisting lies
and distortions in the skill it gives in understanding the way the rhetoric
ol tropes and the rhetoric ol persuasion works. Such expertise as literary
J. Hillis Miller | 153
study gives might le translated to a savvy resistance to the lies and ideo-
logical distortions politicians and talk show hosts promulgate, lor ex-
ample the lies ol those who deny climate change or the lying claims,
lelieved in ly high percentages ol Americans, that Barack Olama is a
Huslim, a socialist, and not a legitimate president lecause he was not
lorn in the Inited States. 1he motto lor this delense ol literary study
might le the challenging and provocative claim made ly Paul de Han in
1he Besistance to 1heory. vhat we call ideology, says de Han, is
precisely the conlusion ol linguistic with natural reality, ol relerence
with phenomenalism. It lollows that, more than any other mode ol in-
quiry, including economics, the linguistics ol literariness is a powerlul
and indispensalle tool in the unmasking ol ideological alerrations, as
well as a determining lactor in accounting lor their occurrence.

1he chances that literary study would have this lenign eect on
many people are slim. One can only have the audacity ol hope and le-
lieve that some people who study literature and literary theory might
le led to the halit ol unmasking ideological alerrations such as those
that surround us on all sides in the Inited States today. 1he chances are
slim lecause ol the diculty ol translerring what you might learn ly a
carelul reading, say, ol The Portrait of a Lady to unmasking the dominant
ideologies that mean a thoughtlul person should only vote Bepullican
il her or his income happens to le in the top two per cent ol all Amer-
icans and il maximizing your wealth in the short term is your only goal.
Another great diculty is the actual situation in American universities
today, as I have descriled it. Ierridas The University without Condition
was not exactly greeted with shouts ol joylul assent when he presented
it as a lecture at Stanlord. In spite ol their lip-service to teaching so-
called critical thinking, the politicians and corporate executives who
preside today over loth pullic and private American colleges and uni-
versities are unlikely to support something that would put in question
the assumptions on the lasis ol which they make decisions alout who
teaches what. 1hey need colleges and universities these days, il at all,
primarily to teach math and science, technology, engineering, com-
puter science, lasic English composition, and other skills necessary
lor working in a technologized capitalist economy. 1he alility to do a
rhetorical reading ol Pride and Prejudice and transler that skill to polit-
icians and advertisers lies is not one ol those necessities. I have never
154 | Poetic Readings
yet heard President Barack Olama so much as mention literary study in
his eloquent speeches alout the urgent need to improve education in the
Inited States.
. Jacques Ierrida, LUniversit sans condition. Paris: Galilee, .cc.; Ilid., 1he
Iniversity without Condition. 1rans. Peggy Kamul. In Without Alibi, ed.
and trans. Peggy Kamul, .c.. Stanlord, c: Stanlord Iniversity Press,
. An enormous literature pullished over the last decades tracking this trans-
lormation exists. Among recent looks and essays are Harc Bousquet, How
the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (Rew ork
and London: Rew ork Iniversity Press, .cc8); Christopher Reweld, Un-
making the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class (Cam-
lridge, n: Larvard Iniversity Press, .cc8); Frank Ionoghue, The Last
Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (Rew ork:
Fordham Iniversity Press, .cc8); Jerey J. villiams, 1he Post-vellare
State Iniversity, American Literary History, .8:. (.cc6), .pc..6. All these
have extensive lilliographies.
Peggy Kamul, Counting Hadness, in The Future of the Humanities: U.S.
Domination and Other Issues, a special issue ol The Oxford Literary Review, ed.
1imothy Clark and Richolas Boyle, vol. .8 (.cc6), 6.
Quoted in Frank Ionoghue, Prestige, Profession 2006 (Rew ork: 1he
Hodern Language Association ol America, .cc6), .6.
Bichard Levin, 1he Bise ol Asias Iniversities,
president/message.aspxid-p. (Last accessed 6 Septemler .c.c.)
6 According to Ionoghue, letween .pc and .cc., Bachelors degrees in
English have declined lrom .6 percent to percent, as have degrees in lor-
eign languages (.. percent to . percent), The Last Professors, p..
Ilid., .c.
8 Poem availalle at
to-read-king-lear-once-again/ (Accessed 6 Septemler .c.c.)
p The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough, ed. Loward Foster Lowry
(London and Rew ork: Oxlord Iniversity Press, .p.), p6.
.c For a proposal lor such courses see Iavid Pogues interview ol John Pallrey,
Larvard Law School prolessor and co-director ol Larvards Berkman Cen-
ter lor Internet and Society at
c/../technology/personaltechemail/index.html (Accessed 6 Septemler
J. Hillis Miller | 155
.. v.B. eats, The Variorum Edition of the Poems, ed. Peter Allt and Bussell K.
Alspach (Rew ork: Hacmillan, .p), .6.
.. J. Lillis Hiller, v.B. eats: 1he Cold Leaven, in Others (Princeton:
Princeton Iniversity Press, .cc.), .c8..
. A. Rorman Jeares, A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (Stan-
lord, c: Stanlord Iniversity Press, .p68), .6.
. Paul de Han, 1he Besistance to 1heory, in The Resistance to Theory (Hin-
neapolis: Iniversity ol Hinnesota Press, .p86), ...
According to lamily legend, I ruined my eyes ly reading in the semi-
gloom (this is always the phrase), wedged in letween the dining-room
wall and a large credenza, the overhead light o lecause I was trying to
hide my wherealouts. Already I was practising leing somewhere else. Il
that is really how I ruined my eyes, it was worth it.
Some people read; most people dont. Il questioned, readers look at you
strangely and say Low could I not Ron-readers lristle and say, I just
dont have time lor all that or vhats the use ol reading anyway So I
dont ask. Use seems to me to le entirely leside the point.
Close to thirty years into a career commenting on literature, as a gradu-
ate student and then a prolessor, and I realize I have never written
simply alout reading. It leels strange, it leels wrong, it leels exciting. I
dont know how to do this. Hy own engagement with looks is my only
guide. vhy I read and not why should others read.
Some people read; most people dont. I can understand why people like
v, though I dont (takes up too much time that could le spent reading).
Fragments from an Entirely Subjective
Story of Reading
Lori Saint-Martin
Lori Saint-Martin | 157
I cant understand, though, how people with access to printed material
can live without reading. vhen I was a little girl, my reward, when my
mother returned lrom shopping downtown, was a picture look, and
later a novel. Hy punishment was to le deprived ol reading lor a certain
numler ol hours, depending on the seriousness ol the oence. Hy cous-
ins thought this was letting me o lightly. Hy mother knew me letter.
Literature is now the way I make my living. I cant lelieve how lucky I
am' And it was largely luck, not good management on my part. In my
lamily, work meant the lactory or the hospital laundry. oud letter nd
another way to earn a living when you grow up, nolody will pay you to
read looks, my mother told me when I was a teenager. Good luck again.
She was wrong alout that one.
I am paid to teach students to analyze literary texts, lut I dont struggle
to make them love reading; I assume they are there lecause they do. 1he
others dont come to us or dont stay. I think there is an age lor acquiring
that love, mostly in childhood, sometimes as late as early high school.
Otherwise, its just not part ol you in that way that makes the question
vhy read impossille to answer except ly Low could I not
Some children read; some children dont. 1hey all love picture looks, in
my experience, and then things lreak down. I taught my children to read
in English alter they learned to read in French at school. And I read them
dozens ol looks out loud. Books lrom three generations my mothers
Red Fairy Book with the cover hall o, The Hobbit, the Rarnia series, Alice
in Wonderland, Edith Reslit, Harriet the Spy, the Lemony Snicket looks,
the Larry Potter series, and more. ve were lost, we were lound, we were
happy. Row they are sixteen and nineteen. She is reading A Fine Balance
and Frankenstein and has discovered Ian HacEwan (when she is tired,
she rereads I Capture the Castle) and he is working his way through /ola
letween looks on Boman history and 1horeaus On Civil Disobedience. I
am so happy lor them.
158 | Poetic Readings
Hy lamily was desperately unilingual and I learned that French existed
lrom cereal loxes. Forlidden to read at the talle, I secretly studied the
lox ol Bice Krispies, the recipe on the can ol Carnation Hilk, or the jar ol
Cheez vhiz thank God lor the era ol packaged lood' 1here is no reading
material at our kitchen talle today, except lor the morning papers: one
English, one French. 1he English I read quickly and then had nothing to
do; the French that I did not yet understand lelt me room to wonder and
dream. Hy parents also had a metal lox they kept Saltines in, with Eng-
lish and Spanish (siempre frescas). 1hats where it all started, with words
lamiliar and unlamiliar, sounding it out, trying to make sense ol the
world. Hy whole lile legan there, with the leel lrisket and the lrozen
peas, the lascination lor strangeness and the mental escape.
Hy husland and I translate literary ction. Belore it is writing, trans-
lation is reading, the closest reading you can imagine. Ro cheating, no
skipping the descriptions, no glossing over a ladly-written sentence or
ludging an olscure relerence. vriters are regularly amazed ly the small
mistakes and inconsistencies we nd and ask to hire us to edit their next
look. But its the translation process itsell, that intimate reading, that
reveals the tiny aws, and the great leauties we try to recreate.
Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Portrait of a Lady, then Proust, Anne
Lelert, Allert Cohen, Hishima, Cien aos de soledad at university and
never lorgotten, Alice Hunro and Havis Gallant, Jane Austen and her
descendants: Barlara Pym, Anita Brookner, and Elizaleth 1aylor, Alis-
tair HacLeod, and all the writers we are translating. A recent passion and
new addition: piles ol short stories and novels in Spanish (souvenirs ol
Buenos Aires). 1here are piles in my oce. 1here are piles on my led-
side talle. I cant use pretty little purses lecause they wont hold a look.
A look is a world and with a digital reader you can have thousands ol
worlds in your carry-on lag. (1his is what we should pack lor the desert
island, always assuming it has a relialle electricity supply.) Books are
heavy and cumlersome, their content is xed, they cannot le updated.
Lori Saint-Martin | 159
So, online encyclopedias, dictionaries, works ol relerence in general.
Still looks, lut in another lormat.
1he Internet gives us the surlace ol the world: photos, Google Haps,
lreaking news, vikipedia lacts. Rovels give us the depth.
I see my sister, age three or lour, carrying a perilously-high pile ol looks
to my grandmother in the lig oak rocking-chair. Bead to me, Rana' I
leel my head against the huge solt lreasts ol my other grandmother tell-
ing me a story. I hear my voice in that room where I read to my children
and hear him anxiously asking vhats happening vho said that
or her repeating an unlamiliar word to have it explained and then, re-
assured, surrendering to the story.
ve read to know we are not alone, writes C.S. Lewis. I rst came across
this quote in a leautilul and sad look ly Hiriam 1oews, Swing Low: A Life,
lut since I did not have her look with me while writing this, I checked
the quote on the Internet. ve all switch, mix, llend; why give anything
up Its like Freuds description ol the unconscious: it wants everything
at once, all the time.
In a short story I am translating lrom the Spanish, relerence is made to a
Iominican lolero singer called Allerto Beltrn. I type his name into the
Google search engine and read .c,cc,ccc hits (c. seconds). Low
could we live without this But again, its all reading; just another kind
ol access.
I love detective novels; they are my v. 1he lrush with darkness, the in-
vestigation which is, in lact, an exercise in hermeneutics, and the nal
elucidation. Its the same leeling as doing a really hard crossword like
the one in the Sunday New York Times. Clues are slanted, idiosyncratic,
doulle in meaning, or amliguous. ou read without comprehending.
And then, in a lighting ash, you see into someone elses mind. vords
t. Patterns spring out. 1here is order, across and down.
160 | Poetic Readings
A lriend ol mine in her late seventies pauses lrom reading Siri Lustvedt
on her iPad (she is the oldest in my look clul and the only one to read
this way, how delicious') to tell me that her grandson, an avid reader, is
turning ten. Oered an electronic reader lor his lirthday gilt he knows
what its like lecause he tried Grandmas, another detail I love he said
he prelers looks as oljects, and lovingly looked at his well-stocked
shelves. Books inspire love and passion. So do iPads and iPhones, lut
then they are replaced ly the next version or the next lig thing.
Rew electronic oljects are leautilul, alluring, they are coveted,
envied, snatched lrom peoples hands on the street (this never happens
with a look); not much later, there is a new must-have and they take on
a slight comical or lorlorn air. Books are leautilul and continue to le
leautilul lor so much longer. 1hey incorporate works ol art (oh, those
covers'), they are works ol art. I never tire ol admiring them.
ve live in a digital age. Like many people, I spend a lot ol time online.
vho would say its a lad thing to le alle to consult a map on our iPhone
or check whether our ight is leaving as scheduled But an incompat-
ilility letween literature and a digital age I dont see it. vhy choose
And anyway, reading is lorever.
I asked my son. Le said he loves a great story that also has a message, like
Germinal. I asked my daughter. She looked surprised and said without
missing a leat: lecause its the most lun. Because it rocks. Because its
the lest thing.
Some people read; most people dont. I do. I would not le me otherwise.
I am unpacking my lilrary. 1he looks are not yet on the shelves, not
yet touched ly the mild loredom ol order.
valter Benjamin
1he last time I moved house, upon opening my loxes ol looks, I lound
I had three copies ol Hargaret Atwoods Surfacing. At that point, I had
leen moving every lew months, nine times in ve years, each time cart-
ing looks and some clothes, and shedding equal weight in assorted
hand-me-down lurniture and decoratively worn garlage chairs.
I like Surfacing: the northern wilderness that echoes my childhood,
the thrilling lear ol what oats and tangles lelow us when we swim in
dark, cold lakes. But the novels presence in triplicate was lewilder-
ing; nor did I recall the acquisition ol any ol the three copies, identical
HcClelland 8 Stewart editions, variously lattered. In that lamous essay,
Inpacking Hy Lilrary, Benjamin, who does recall acquisitional high-
lights, uses his memories ol those coups de foudre to oer a glimpse into
the (possilly slightly unhinged) psyche ol the look collector: Every
passion lorders on the chaotic, lut the collectors passion lorders on
the chaos ol memories. Hore than that: the chance, the late, that sul-
luse the past lelore my eyes are conspicuously alsent in the accustomed
conlusion ol these looks. For what else is this collection lut a disor-
der to which halit has accommodated itsell to such an extent that it can
appear as order
A Very Good Chance of
Getting Somewhere Else
Katia Grubisic
162 | Poetic Readings
I am moving again. 1his time, its much worse; Ive leen accumulat-
ing in one place lor six years. 1he chaos is so halituated that the order,
such as it is, and the looks themselves, seem completely immutalle.
1he rare, lucky nds I do rememler, like two Edna St. \incent Hillay
rst editions discovered under a resident cat at vestcott Books when the
store was on Sainte-Catherine Street in Hontreal. Hany are inscriled
(and many are inscriled to someone else. vho was Beth, so leloved,
who divested hersell ol Elizaleth Smarts By Grand Central Station I Sat
Down and Wept): the rst collection ol poetry my mother gave me, a
gesture so encouragingly laden with acceptance ol my writerly predilec-
tion; gilts lrom my rst love that range lrom Khalil Gilran to The Far
Side; looks lrom poets Ive worked with and met, with glancing reler-
ences to the crucial trivialities ol our metier Lopelully, when next we
meet, well have more ol a chance to discuss such matters as 1he Line.
As mementos, they are treasured lor the same reasons letters are the
time taken, the moment captured. 1he look-ly-look conlrontations ol
the inevitalle cull remind me ol lriel interests, once-and-lormers, an
enduring lut lootless pirate jones. I end up with hall a lox ol giveaways,
mostly lorgettalle review copies. 1he pirate looks I keep.
Like Benjamin, who cites Anatole Frances response to a snippy phil-
istine (I dont suppose you use your Svres china every day), I have
not read most ol what comes o the shelves to ll lty-three cartons.
And, like Benjamin, I wonder whether my lilrary, looking now lar less
like a dusty record ol my lile or a loundless, leautilul house ol mirrors
and more like a I-Laul upgrade, is not an archaism. I lully realize,
Benjamin admits, that my discussion ol the mental climate ol collecting
will conrm many ol you in your conviction that this passion is lehind
the times. Behind the times, more than eighty years ago.
1here is a New Yorker cartoon that has two men in vaguely medieval
attire examining an olject lelore them.

One lellow is turning leaves ol

paper, captivated; his companion, arms crossed, responds with more
scepticism: Rice, lut as long as there will le readers, there will le
scrolls. Im that guy, decidedly, devotedly lehind the times.
I have used e-readers and own an assortment ol electronic tools, lut
I remain unalle to read electronic looks. 1he very term strikes me as a
contradiction. Like others who have recently pullicly waxed somewhere
letween nostalgic and aroused alout their book looks, I love the physical
presence ol the lilrary, the voluminous surroundings ol the only oljects
that have lollowed me almost my whole lile. In lact, I love any lilrary.
Katia Grubisic | 163
1ravelling across Europe when I was younger, lilraries, along with uni-
versities and churches, provided loth shelter and revelation, like walk-
ing into your own house to nd a new skylight has leen opened up, and
a lamily ol lluelirds had nested there. A wall ol looks is a wall ol win-
dows, Leon vieseltier writes: 1hey take up room Ol course they do:
they are an environment; atoms, not lits. Hy looks are not dead weight,
they are live weight matter inlused ly spirit, every one ol them, even
the silliest. 1hey do not llock the horizon; they draw it.
As I pile and slide them dog-eared, unread, some lorgotten into
liquor-store loxes, my looks oer me a paradoxical, almost religious,
comlort: you had forgotten about me, but I was still here.
In a recent column in the Globe and Mail, Elizaleth Benzetti wrote ol
the enthusiastic disposal ol her print looks, on which she had conlerred
a totemic power: 1hey had lecome letish oljects, a way ol reminding
ourselves that we were the kind ol people who read. But they were, alter
all, just glue and macerated tree.

1hanks to her e-reader, however, she

says, shes reading more than ever.
Perhaps, dear reader, you are enjoying this look even now on a screen;
perhaps you have travelled lar lrom home and shell with an entire li-
lrary on a slim electronic device. Perhaps you are lookmarking, anno-
tating, or conducting related searches, without lumlling lor a pencil,
mutilating innocent page corners, and scratching questions that youll
never look up. E-looks are neat, lunctional. 1hey can le consumed
without helt or clutter.
But the helt and the clutter are the point. 1he physical suggestion ol
the possille is a large part ol my allegedly outdated attachment. viesel-
tier calls the marginalia and manglings ly which we lecome the inter-
locutors ol print looks excitations ol thought and leeling.

Back in the
Globe, Benzetti points out that its the writing and the ideas, not the
looks themselves, that should le venerated. Sure, whether in print or
electronically, the content is ostensilly the same. And yet it isnt; havent
we long since concluded that content is shaped ly medium HcLuhans
oracular olservation that our technologies are extensions

ol ourselves
stops short, lor me, with e-looks. I cannot extend into the e-look. I
read dierently on screens, to such an extent that the activity scarcely
resemlles reading at all.
Some weeks ago, someone online linked to an article, something
alout a B-movie star dying alone, eventually lound more or less mum-
mied in the persistent lluish glow ol her computer. 1he loneliness ol
164 | Poetic Readings
the electronic age, etcetera; on I scrolled. vhen my Atlantic arrived in
the mail, I read the print version.

1he words in print were the same Id

scanned on the vel: Stephen Harches article opens on the late isolated
lile ol vette \ickers, whose social connections were eventually reduced
to distant lans whod tracked her down online. 1he article is lar more
complex than its sensational leader: Harche acknowledges the tentac-
ular scope ol social media, and points out the inherent ironies ol un-
expectedly lonely interactivity. Le also provides a comparison with
.pcs social and urlan structures, discusses the psychology ol loneli-
ness and its links to narcissism, and takes a nice detour into vhitman,
Emerson, and Helville. 1he print content was exactly the same as the
online content, yet to save my lile I couldnt have told you that Harche
had aligned Song ol Hysell with the sell-expressive impulse at the
heart ol American culture. I dont think I could have told you whod writ-
ten the article, or, lor that matter, the pullication in which it appeared.
I get data lrom the vel and I use the online Oxford English Dictionary; I
download electronic articles; I have Kindle on my computer. I use a word
processor, and my work time is largely spent in lront ol a screen (though
I still nd I have to edit on paper, as il errors, once llack on white,
lecome more evident lecause ol the implied threat ol permanence).
Like most rst-world middle-class readers ol my generation, Ive used
tallets and e-readers. I hesitate to disagree with the arguments in their
lavour, lest I come across as an uninlormed, out-ol-touch grouch.
Katia, mayle you have no attention span; mayle you were preoccu-
pied with your grocery list, your deadline, whatever. But my experience
with the Atlantic article on the lriendlessness ol the uler-lriended age
is typical ol the lack ol depth and intake that characterizes reading on a
screen. I skip, I skim; I do little more than glean.
As it turns out, its not just me. As early as the .p8cs, neurologists,
typographers, and media scholars were investigating cognitive and er-
gonomic dierences letween paper and screen. Early reading-compre-
hension studies showed little variation in test suljects asked to answer
a series ol questions lased on documents read on a screen or on paper.

Outside the lal, however, how would those test suljects lare Beading
lehaviour has since leen examined not just in relation to content, lut
taking into account the inuence ol the electronic textual armature:
the availalility and visual distraction ol hyperlinks, the alility to in-
stantaneously lollow tangents, the movement and attraction ol images
Katia Grubisic | 165
and videos, the physical interaction with the olject. Hanulacturers ol
e-readers have ne-tuned many ol the lactors (glare, contrast, the alil-
ity to manipulate text size, relerence leatures, and so on) that aect
the physical experience ol e-reading. et in regard to eye movement,
reading on a screen presents more choice and therelore more distrac-
tion; it is characterized ly more time spent on lrowsing and scanning,
keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading
more selectively.

Even among academics, who are presumally skilled

at deep intellectual interactions with texts, the consumption ol digital
texts in studies was glancing at lest: two-thirds ol those who read lrom
digital lilraries spent less than three minutes on each article, a pinlall
process relerred to as squirreling or power lrowsing.
1here has always leen shallow and deep reading, the rst charac-
terized even in pre-digital days ly skimming, as through newspaper
headlines. Commenting on eighteenth-century shilts in reading, the
German historian Boll Engelsing set intensive reading and lrequent
rereadings ol lew texts apart lrom the more supercial extensive read-
ing ol many texts more quickly and only once, including in this latter
category novels, periodicals, and newspapers.
Our alility to process
digital texts is likewise inherently shallow: the mediums noted intan-
gilility and volatility
shapes what we can get lrom it. In his alarm-
ing, perspicacious study ol the inuences ol the Internet on cognition,
Richolas Carr notices the erosion ol his memory, his concentration ol
his neurological stalility and links it to the increased use ol digital
technologies. Only a curmudgeon would reluse to see the riches ol the
Internet, Carr writes, yet calm, locused, undistracted, the linear mind
is leing pushed aside ly a new kind ol mind that wants and needs to
take in and dole out inlormation in short, disjointed, olten overlapping
lursts the laster, the letter.

Early proponents ol the electronic model paradoxically lauded loth
its alility to lree readers lrom the authorially imposed hierarchy and its
alility to guide readers through the text. In print, the physical, stalle
presence ol the text, Johndan Johnson-Eilola wrote in .pp, works
to deny the intangille, psychological text the reader attempts to con-
Pagelound, it is suggested, the text (and therelore the idea) is
immovalle. Others have praised the didactic possililities that could le
tailored to a readers level ol development or context. 1here is olviously
power in the authors alility to present, cralt, and control the content ol
166 | Poetic Readings
his or her look; and there is a pedagogical uselulness to setting lters
lor easier or appropriate processing ol inlormation.
But is it truly lreer to choose to click a hyperlink, which was alter all
put there ly someone Is linear text any less associative, presenting as
it does innite imaginative and intellectual possililities lor disagree-
ment and extrapolation In any successlul look, as Allerto Hanguel
eloquently puts it, the primordial relationship letween writer and
reader presents a wonderlul paradox: in creating the role ol the reader,
the writer also decrees the writers death, since in order lor a text to le
nished the writer must withdraw, cease to exist.
Is hypertext, as an
endless lalyrinth ol content and meaning, the ultimate authorial meg-
alomania, never leaving room lor the reader to create him- or hersell
And does the reader lecome merely a commercial target il that author
lecomes increasingly an amalgam ol more-or-less editorially organized
content providers serving opportunities lor advertisement vill the
death ol the author lecome punctuated not ly Long live the reader' as
Hanguel sees the relationship, lut ly a Flash eulogy to a gawd con-
tent provider I think print and look olits are premature, at least until
culture evolves, or devolves, to exist leyond the intangille, complex au-
thorial transulstantiation Hanguel descriles.
1he evolutionary and physical aspects ol reading go lack to that New
Yorker scholar and his scroll. Codices, and later printed and lound lolios,
were more portalle, easier to reproduce, and more widely accessille
(even considered dangerously so), to such an extent that their develop-
ment is inextrically tied to our expression as a species: Il the telescope
was the eye that gave access to a world ol new lacts and new methods ol
oltaining them, Reil Postman wrote, then the printing press was the
(Because ol their alility to le circulated instantaneously, un-
lettered ly twentieth-century hollles like geography, electronic texts
are olten advocated as leing universally accessille, lut they are really
only availalle to the roughly one-lth ol the worlds population that has
access to computers.)
Even more primordial is the physical component ol reading. 1hose
who study the evolution ol language point to its literally digital ori-
gin, and evolutionary theorists have aligned lipedal walking, lreeing
ol hands, gestural communication and the evolution ol language and
human speech.
Even I doult that the pinnacle ol our evolution will
turn out to le ipping pages. Perhaps we will evolve in response to
Katia Grubisic | 167
reading electronically; certainly recent successive generations already
demonstrate skills that change so rapidly they lecome instinctive, il not
actually markers ol evolution. I am hardly agd, yet I text with one nger,
while those even ve years younger seem to have thumls that are not
only opposalle, lut lionic. Chicken or egg, humans have evolved along-
side the development ol our tools lor language preservations and con-
veyance. In the case ol electronic versus print, however, the inuence
ol the digital medium seem to make us the tools ol our tools, as Postman
leared twenty years ago.
1he relationship letween humans and their lits ol sharpened stone
is one ol slant, complicated reciprocity, lut ultimately we use them, and
not the other way around. I read to interact with the text, the author, the
ideas, my own imaginative departures; I read lor the chewy, wonderlul
language made miraculously new each time with the same two-dozen or
so symlols. vhen the tool hijacks that interaction, its the caveman lick-
ing the spearhead instead ol plunging into the lloody, satislying, earned
nourishment ol his salre-toothed chicken lar less satislying, and lar
more predictalle.
I own an iPod, lut I much preler a collection ol cns and records; I
would never go through the troulle ol looking up and knowing to
look up then purchasing or pirating the Silelius \iolin Concerto in I
minor, lor instance. Knowing what youre looking lor hall dismantles
the point ol nding it. I suppose I could get v shows lrom the vel, lut I
am much more entertained ly the random surprise ol catching the third
sequel ol The Planet of the Apes on television, dulled in French, at two
oclock in the morning. Identilying needs or desires, and then deliler-
ately selecting the art or entertainment that meets those specic desires
is satislying, lut happenstance has the advantage ol surprise.
ve have always leen told what to read ly the Jesuits, the canon,
the lestseller lists. In the vest, we have lor some time enjoyed relative
lreedom to read what we will. (Belative lecause ol course the process ol
pullication has leen controlled. Let us save lor another day a discus-
sion ol the merits ol our increased alility to disseminate and circulate
texts outside the structure ol the traditional pullishing industry.) 1he
contemporary algorithmic equivalent ol a reading list is perplexing to
me. I know the digital recommendations I get in some way reect my
and my demographic peers lrowsing or purchasing history; the poetry
collections, literary ction, editing manuals, dictionaries, and style
168 | Poetic Readings
guides the machine deems tailor-made lor my credit card I get that.
But what might I have leen looking lor that would lring up a travel guide
to Greece, a Columbo lox set, the autoliography ol Bon HacLean, and
something called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on
America At least the Canadian incarnation ol that online look giant has
not ventured lar leyond looks, into tires, sex toys, and 1asers. Custom-
ers who lought this item also lought
vhatever curricular or canonical dictates were imposed, the inten-
tions lehind them are at least somewhat transparent to adhere to a
particular doctrine, to take in what is representative ol a time, country,
or movement. In electronic lilraries and lookstores, demographic,
lrowsing, and purchase data is collected, anities estallished and rec-
ommendations made. Amazons item-to-item collalorative ltering
gestures leyond data, generating suggestions lased on the other pur-
chases ol luyers who sought a particular look. Recessarily lased on pat-
terns, it lters out erratic shopping lehaviour, and the more we comply
with the machinerys suggestions, the more the patterns are stream-
lined, making the purchasing process, lrom opening the wel page to
checking out, more ecient, at least in commercial terms. 1his pro-
cess ol lalse personalization is disturling, emphasizing the end result
without the intervention ol content or context. Indeed, the suggestion
that a high percentage ol strangers who lought a look ol value to me also
wanted hockey anecdotes has a tinge ol Groucho-Harxian overshare: not
my clul alter all, thank you very much.
Iigital lilraries and the gadgets lor their compilation and consump-
tion are marketed around suljectication. vriting on identity lormation
through the selection ol a digital music lilrary, the media scholar Ielia
Iumitrica seems swayed ly the prevailing ad copy: Its all alout choices
when it comes to the iPod: your choice ol accessories, your choice ol
colors, your choice ol content. 1he identity constructed ly the iPod is a
customizalle and molile one. Its constructed through our prelerences.
Our iPods are the material technologies enalling us to sell-customize
1he choice is seemingly ours to make do we want hip-hop Rano
Lime green In electronic literature, the marketing tricks are cer-
tainly present, and the genres equally clearly dened (and in any case
digital generic divisions parallel print classication systems). Online,
however, we can only really choose lrom what weve already chosen, or
Katia Grubisic | 169
lrom what others have chosen, or, I suppose, lased on that days +c.pp
deals. vhile the looks on my shelves have also leen chosen, and while
a lricks-and-mortar lookstore or lilrary has leen curated, the physical
presence ol so many possililities is irreplacealle. As rare-looks lilrar-
ian Hatthew Battles says, lilraries make not a model for lut a model of
the universe.

1here are so many possille elsewheres.

Beading an electronic text can le made somewhat arlitrary open to
discoveries ly a devices randomization lunction, through algorithms,
or ly the choose-your-own-adventure ol clicking through lrom one link
to the next. Physical lrowsing, however, is to some extent random prior
to entering a look. Hood, proximity, whim; Ralokovs saw alout the test
ol quality leing rereading. Etymologically, to read harkens lack to de-
lileration: to take thought, attend to. vith print, the attention legins
lelore the look is even taken lrom the shell. 1he cliches alout getting
lost in a look, or lost in the stacks, reect in lact nding things leyond
ourselves a world, a character, or an idea we can approach, question,
or emlrace and that willul alnegation at once erodes and multiplies
our suljectivity. 1he stories, language, or notions in any text, electronic
or print, can le ligger, lroader than the reader, getting-lost-inducing.
Even Benzetti, in distriluting her print lilrary, plays into the pleasure
ol discovery. Placing her looks on a low wall ly her house, she olserved
the random process ol selection, delighted in watching the moment ol
yes, I want. 1hey took everything; they hadnt even known the wanting.
As well as the physical experience that look smell old or new, the
comlort ol storied surroundings, the immersive, locused apprehen-
sion one ol the lundamental reasons lor my allegiance to printed
matter is chance. Il you dont know where youre going, my lather is lond
ol saying, there is a very good chance you will end up somewhere else.
Conjugal disputes alout asking lor directions aside, this strikes me as a
very good philosophy ol reading lor the kind ol unexpected, alsorling,
whole entrance into a look. Further, il, as Richolas Carr and others

suggest, electronistas are not only worse readers lut less creative, then
the slow and linear intake and the lree and random selection ol analogue
media perhaps oers our lrains opportunities simultaneously to locus
and to roam.
For discovery, theres nothing like a collection ol looks, in all like-
lihood mostly unread, and acquired over years with a range ol impulse
and intent. In part, I know, the reason an allum or v movie or look
170 | Poetic Readings
spine jumps out at me is the same as the textual, visual, and aural ma-
nipulation designed to draw us lrom one welsite to the next. But Im
with Benjamin, and I would add to his chaos ol memories also the
chaos ol discovery, and the chaos that discovery, and creativity, re-
quires. I could own a digital copy ol Surfacing; I might even reread it. But
I would never have to stop short to wonder why I own three. A look is
more than a text, Leon vieseltier reminds us: even il every look in
my lilrary is on Google Books, my lilrary is not on Google Books.

unpacking my lilrary to see whether la Atwood might have anything to
say alout wonderment or chaos and naturally I cant nd the look, or
much ol anything I come across instead the American poet Hichael
Earl Craig, who has a great line alout lluelirds. And here is Elizaleth
Bishop, Borges, and Saint-Exupery, and a look I dont know why I own,
alout mad cow disease. A look alout chickens, given to me ly a lriend
who couldnt rememler why shed ordered it. A .p6c lreeders guide
called El canario, so lrittle it rains lits ol itsell everywhere. It smells like
the market stall in San 1elmo where, the lront page records in pencil, I
apparently paid .6 pesos lor it. And Andree Chedids Le message, which
lalls open: Lhomme etait insaisissalle, lexistence, une enigme. Par-
lois un geste, un paysage, une rencontre, une parole, une musique, une
lecture Il lallait savoir, sen souvenir, parier sur ces clartes-la, les at-
tiser sans relche.
(Han was elusive and existence an enigma. Some-
times a gesture, a landscape, an encounter, a word, music, reading ve
had to know, to rememler, to wager on these instances ol lrightness, to
stoke them without cease.)
. valter Benjamin, Inpacking Hy Lilrary in Illuminations, trans. Larry
/ohn (Rew ork: Larcourt Brace Jovanovich, .p68), 6c.
. Paul Karasik, in The New Yorker, Hay .c...
Leon vieseltier, \oluminous, The New Republic, Felruary .., .c...
Elizaleth Benzetti, Im no longer lound ly my looks lut Im reading
more than ever, Globe and Mail, Harch .c...
vieseltier, \oluminous.
6 HcLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Rew ork: HcGraw
Lill, .p6).
Katia Grubisic | 171
Stephen Harche, Is Facelook Haking Is Lonely The Atlantic, Hay .c..:
8 See Andrew Iillons exhaustive literature review, Beading lrom Paper
versus Screens: A Critical Beview ol the Empirical Literature, Ergonomics
..c (.pp.): ..p.6; and Iavida Charney, 1he Impact ol Lypertext on
Processes ol Beading and vriting, Literacy and Computers, ed. Susan J. Lil-
ligoss and Cynthia L. Selle (Rew ork: ns, .pp), .8.6.
p /iming Liu, Beading Behaviour in the Iigital Environment: Changes in
Beading Behaviour over the Past 1en ears. Journal of Documentation, 6..6
(.cc): cc...
.c 1erje Lillesund, Iigital Beading Spaces: Low Expert Beaders Landle
Books, the vel and Electronic Paper, First Monday, .. (.c.c).
.. Boll Engelsing, Analphabetentum und Lektre: zur Sozialgeschichte des Lesens
in Deutschland zwischen feudaler und industrieller Gesellschaft (Stuttgart:
Hetzler, .p).
.. Anne Hangen, Lypertext Fiction Beading: Laptics and Immersion, Jour-
nal of Research in Reading, .. (.cc8): c.p.
. Richolas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Rew
ork: v.v. Rorton 8 Company, .c.c), .c.
. Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing
(Rorwood, xj: Allex, .pp), ..
. Allerto Hanguel, A History of Reading (Bandom Louse \intage, .pp6),
.6 Reil Postman, Technopoly. The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Rew ork:
Bandom Louse \intage, .pp), 6.
. Ilid.
.8 Ilid.
.p Ielia Iumitrica, ou Are our iPod' iPod and Philosophy. iCon of an ePoch,
ed. I.E. vittkower (Peru, ss: Carus Pullishing Open Court, .cc8), ..p
.c Hatthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Rew ork: v.v. Rorton 8
Company, .cc), 6.
.. Around .c.c, a numler ol looks tracked the deleterious cultural, social,
and neurological eects ol the Internet; Carr mentions Jarod Laniers You
Are Not a Gadget and villiam Powers Hamlets BlackBerry as notalle recent
.. vieseltier, \oluminous.
. Andree Chedid, Le message (Paris: Flammarion, .ccc), 6p.
Literature and the World (Part Two)
It is said that the Internet is destroying attention span. Its technology,
people say. 1eenagers are always on the computer. ou never see them
read a look.
For giving inlormation and opinion, lor communication, and lor ol-
lering new kinds ol games, the Internet has leen enormously success-
lul. Ise ol it now occupies sulstantial amounts ol time lor loth younger
and older generations. But is technology killing literature
In this essay, I discuss the extent ol look-reading in modern soci-
eties and consider the impact ol digital technologies. For small amounts
ol inlormation snippets the Internet is displacing printed sources,
lecause it makes inlormation easily and widely availalle. But, some
centuries ago, the technology ol looks made a mode ol deep and ex-
tended concentration on particular suljects widely availalle. Although
computer-lased writing is now displacing paper-lased writing to some
extent, and although the mode ol extended concentration on a piece ol
ction or non-ction is, and has always leen, a minority interest, this
mode remains well estallished. Hany looks are trains ol concentrated,
externalized thought. Although now, more than ever, there is competi-
tion lor peoples leisure time, digital technologies do not interlere with
the mode ol extended concentration that looks enalle. By making more
Thinking Deeply in
Reading and Writing
Keith Oatley
176 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
looks availalle in more lorms to more people, digital technologies may
even assist this mode.
The Extent of Literary Reading
Some evidence on the extent ol literary reading comes lrom telephone
surveys ly the Rational Endowment lor the Arts in conjunction with
the IS Census Bureau. 1heir .cc report lound that, whereas in their
survey ol .p8. the proportion ol the adult American population who
read literature was 6.p per cent, in .cc. it had lallen to . per cent.
In their most recent survey, conducted in .cc8 (pullished .ccp), a
rise in literary reading was lound since the previous survey, to c.. per
cent, lut this proportion still lags the rate lound in .p8.. In the .cc8
survey (.8,ccc interviews with a response rate ol 8. per cent) a person
was counted as a literary reader il he or she said es to the question:
Iuring the last .. months, did you read any (a) novels or short stories;
(l) poetry; or (c) plays 1he .cc8 survey also lound that ol people who
used the Internet to read articles, essays, or llogs, per cent read looks
as well. Surveys ol this kind use a retrospective method: they ask people
to look lack and say what they have done. 1his method tends to over-
estimate the amounts ol reading people do, lecause it is susceptille to
liases ol sell-presentation.
Besearch in other countries has also shown downward trends in
reading over recent decades. For instance, a study ly Knulst and van
den Broek (.cc) in the Retherlands used the method ol asking people
to keep time ludgets: making a note ol what activities they perlormed
during the course ol a week. In a week in Octoler .p, p per cent ol
people aged twelve and over reported reading a look lor at least a quar-
ter ol an hour outside work or education. Iuring a comparalle week in
Octoler .ccc, that percentage had lallen to . per cent. 1he researchers
compared their method ol time ludgets with the retrospective method,
with which they lound that in surveys letween .p and .ccc, the pro-
portions ol people who said they had read a look in the previous month
was just over c per cent (similar to proportions ol American readers in
retrospective surveys, that I discuss alove).
From the method ol time ludgets, Knulst and van den Broek lound
that the time people living in the Retherlands aged twelve and over spent
reading looks was, on average, ..6 hours per week in .p, lut this had
Keith Oatley | 177
lallen to c.p hours in .ccc. By comparison, in .ccc, the average time
per week that people spent watching television was estimated as ...
hours, and the average time spent using the computer and Internet was
already up to ..8 hours.
Some pieces ol technology do lecome olsolete and are displaced ly
newer technologies. By .ppc, sales ol typewriters must have started to
lall. But once a new technology has estallished a uselul lunction, it is
generally taken up into society. A new niche is supported ly new prac-
tices which, il the technology nds a widely uselul lunction, lecome
rmly estallished.
Inlike the alility to converse, which is a liological endowment,
writing-and-reading is a technology, perhaps the most important yet
invented. Every technology has three aspects. One is external. In writing
and reading its the marks on paper or some other medium. Another is
internal. In writing and reading its the skills to make and use the exter-
nal marks. 1he third is ol societal practices. For reading, these include
the whole structure ol education, and our dependence on it.
1he niche lormerly occupied entirely ly reading and writing on paper
has ly no means disappeared. Huch paper-lased writing has leen re-
placed ly marks on computer screens. But theres no loss here ol the
central lunctions ol reading and writing, which continue to le strongly
supported ly societal practices and new digital technologies.
Three Preliminary Conclusions on the Decline of Print-reading
A rst conclusion, lairly rm although preliminary in the sense that
we do not understand all its causes, is alout the decline ol reading on
printed paper. A decline ol this kind ol reading certainly has occurred
over the last 6c years as a result ol competition lrom lm and television.
1he hypothesis that the eect is explained ly people opting lor lm and
television lecause they are less demanding than literature has, however,
not leen straightlorwardly conrmed. Bolinson (.p8c) lound that, le-
tween .p6 and .p in the IS, a precipitous drop ol newspaper reading
occurred particularly among the young, lut no general decline ol look
reading was seen. A corrolorating result ol Knulst and van den Broeks
(.cc) study was that, in the competition with newer media, the looks
that suered most letween .p and .ccc were adolescent looks,
comic looks, and thrillers. 1here was no evidence lor the hypothesis
178 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
that individuals decided to give up reading literary looks in lavour ol
lighter material availalle on television. Ror did the researchers nd that
the more time a person devoted to television the less time that person
devoted to serious looks. As Internet use has grown, it has occupied
leisure time. 1elevision watching has decreased as Internet use has in-
creased and that, says Shirky (.c.c), is a good thing.
Knulst and van den Broeks (.cc) conclusion is that a group ol avid
readers continues to read literary looks, and the reason lor the decline
in literary reading over recent years is that when such readers die they
are not replaced ly comparalle numlers ol young literary readers. As
Knulst and Kraaykamp (.pp) have shown, young people have leen
more likely to lecome predominant television watchers rather than
predominant look readers. Perhaps memlers ol a yet-newer genera-
tion are lecoming predominant Internet users.
A second preliminary conclusion is that literary reading was always a
minority activity. Belore the introduction ol printing to the vest around
.c, almost no one in Europe could write or read. Il we were to dene
literature as narratives alout selves in interaction with each other, such
looks as the Gospels and Augustines Confessions would come under this
rulric, and in medieval times in Europe the principal readers ol such
material were monks. Row people who read literary novels and short
stories come lrom wider sectors ol the population. 1he Rational Endow-
ment lor the Arts (.ccp) report lound that ol those who read literature
8 per cent were women and . per cent were men. 1hose who had some
college education or higher were three times more likely to le literary
readers than those whose highest educational level was grade school.
1he data ol average numlers ol hours spent reading in a population
seem to derive lrom a large numler ol people who read seldom or not
at all and a small numler who read a lot. Horeover, as Bukodi (.cc)
has shown, in Lungary, look readers tend to le people with more cog-
nitive resources (they are the more educated) and more economic re-
sources (they have higher incomes). Coulangeon (.cc) conrmed that
there has leen a decline ol literary reading in France, lut says that this
was slowed, to some extent, ly an increase in access to high school that
occurred in the .p8cs and .ppcs. It may le that in Europe and Rorth
America literary readers are lecoming less numerous, though it may
also le that as more people, lor instance in countries like India and
China, lecome educated the alsolute numler ol literary readers in the
world may le increasing.
Keith Oatley | 179
1o answer some ol the questions raised at the leginning ol this essay,
I dont know ol any evidence that the Internet has eroded peoples atten-
tion span. Indeed, in a recent study Johnson (.cc8) lound that young
people who were lrequent users ol the Internet had skills in planning,
attention, and simultaneous and successive processing that were su-
perior to those ol inlrequent users. oung people concentrate perlectly
well when they watch lms that last two hours. It is, however, the case that
young people today choose lrom a larger array ol writing-and-reading
lased activities than was availalle to the generation who grew up in the
.pcs and early .pcs. Among them are people who take more to Face-
look than to the printed look.
1he third preliminary conclusion is that rather than thinking alout
implementation in paper and print as compared with electronic words
on a computer screen, we should think ol psychological lunctions. 1he
Internet now provides a niche ol rapid access to news, quotations, im-
ages, inlormation alout people wonderlul' It oers us snippets, and
olten a snippet is very uselul: just what we want. Easy access to pieces ol
inlormation to which one can attend lor a lew minutes has leen with us
lor some time. 1his access was augmented ly newspapers, which legan
in Europe letween .6c and .cc and which, at the end ol that period,
lecame estallished in America. By the middle ol the nineteenth cen-
tury, with the coming ol cheap paper and speedy type-setting, news-
papers lecame uliquitous.
A spectrum ol concentration span and the kind ol matter that lalls at
dierent points on it might look something like this.
A few minutes One to three hours Several hours or days
Rewspaper items Plays Rovels
1elevision news items Short stories Ron-ction looks
Internet items Films
v series episodes
vithin the niches ol concentration lor a lew minutes, and lor one
to three hours, there has leen intense competition over the last hun-
dred years. Huch ol the lormer interest in newspapers has moved to
television, and more recently to the Internet. Hovies, and television
series and dramas, seem to have contriluted to competition in the one-
180 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
to-three-hour niche ly displacing some sources ol printed material in
newspapers and magazines. Iigital innovations have, however, ly no
means destroyed this niche. 1hey have, instead, led to digitized tele-
vision and movie-making, as well as to the nvn and more recently to the
down-loadalle movie. 1he niche ol concentration lor several hours or
days remains with looks, although now print looks are in competition
with audio-looks, lrom Kindle, lrom the iPad, and even lrom molile
vhat, then, is the real lunction ol the literary look, ction or non-
ction I suggest it is to oer the possilility ol thinking alout an issue
and its implications deeply, in a concentrated way lor a sustained period.
1he niche occupied ly the literary look is one in which the reader can
immerse him- or her-sell deeply and continuously in a sulject. One
reason why this is so important is that many looks, especially the great
looks, have lenetted lrom the writer spending months or years, con-
centrating on a single work.
Intense Concentration on Writing and Reading
In this section, I argue that externalization ol thought has extended the
ways in which we think, that it encourages concentration on particular
issues lor long periods, and that it lacilitates certain kinds ol thought
that are dicult without this externalization. For a long time, verlal
thoughts were externalized onto paper. Row they may le externalized
onto a screen, lut this has not harmed the underlying lunction. 1his
mode ol thought continues to le important. Lere are two examples ol
such externalization lrom science (lrom the paper age).
Gleik (.pp) recounts how the historian Charles viener interviewed
physicist Bichard Feynman. viener had some ol Feynmans original
notes and sketches and during his interview with Feynman he remarked
that these represented a record ol [Feynmans] day-to-day work.
Feynman replied sharply: I actually did the work on the paper,
he said.
vell, viener said, the work was done in your head, lut the
record ol it is still here.
Ro, its not a record, not really. Its working. ou have to work on
paper and this is the paper. Okay (cp)
Keith Oatley | 181
Row an example lrom liology: Gruler and Barrett (.p) oer ex-
tracts lrom Iarwins notelooks written lrom July .8 to July .8p that
indicate the development ol his ideas alout how species evolved. Iar-
wins rst theory was very dierent lrom the one that lecame lamous.
Gruler argues that Iarwin was thinking carelully and with deep con-
centration during the two years in which he kept these notelooks,
making implicit thoughts explicit, therely leing alle to recognize ideas
that wouldnt work, and leing alle to improve on them.
It is, ol course, possille to think without externalizing ones thoughts,
and indeed elalorate modes ol thinking can occur without any kind ol
externalization ol verlal thought (Oatley .p). But mental thoughts can
le uid, vague, and ephemeral. 1houghts externalized onto paper or
some other medium can le crystallized, detailed, and lasting. One could
take a view ol Iarwins notelooks like the one viener took ol Feynmans
notes and sketches: that they are records ol thought. 1his would le as
il Iarwin in developing his theory ol evolution ly natural selection was
walking through snow and leaving lootprints. I think that Feynman is
nearer the truth: the written marks that he and Iarwin made were ex-
ternalizations ol thought in words and symlols that made lurther de-
velopments possille. A letter metaphor than lootprints in snow, there-
lore, would le that the externalized thoughts ol Iarwins notelooks
are pitons hammered into the crevices ol a rock-lace to enalle him to
climl it.
Several leatures ol the externalization ol thought are important. Lere
are lour. All reasoning requires memory (Johnson-Laird .cc6). Con-
scious reasoning involves what psychologists call working memory. 1his
has a very limited capacity, so that leing alle to extend this capacity ly
an external memory will usually le helplul. Second, creative thinking
involves making associations among elements that were not previously
associated. 1here is evidence that the unnishedness ol projects such
as occurs in the written workings ol science, prompt creativity and the
making ol new associations (Baas, Ie Ireu, and Rijstad .c..). 1hird,
reading is an interpretive activity, and reading what one has written is
likely to prompt new interpretations, that is to say new thoughts, which
can then also le externalized in a progression. Fourth, in the way that
Feynman descriled, workings that is to say orderings, reorderings,
and manipulations can olten le done more easily with externalized
symlols than inside the head.
182 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
Exactly the same considerations apply to writing ction. 1here were
a lew novels written lelore paper was easily availalle. For instance, as
Ioody (.pp) has shown, several novels have survived lrom Lellenis-
tic and Boman societies. (1he only one easily availalle in lookshops
now is The Golden Ass, ly Apuleius, written alout the year .6c.) In the
East, Hurasaki Shikilus The Tale of Genji is a distinguished and in-
sightlul novel lrom alout the year .ccc. In Europe, the novel generally
recognized as loundational at the end ol the Benaissance is Don Quix-
ote ly Higuel de Cervantes. Argually, despite these leginnings, it was
not until the end ol the eighteenth and leginning ol the nineteenth
centuries that the European novel really got going, with such writers as
Johann von Goethe in Germany, Jane Austen in England, and Stendhal
in France. 1he short story (as opposed to the yarn, tale, or lalle) was an
even newer genre that Frank OConnor (.p6) traces to a lit later, with
the stories ol 1urgenev and Haupassant. 1he point ol this snippet ol lit-
erary history is that whereas some eighteenth century novels seem as I
read them to have derived more-or-less directly lrom what happened
to come into the writers mind as he or she sat down with pen in hand,
the availalility ol cheap paper encouraged multiple dralting, and hence
progressive improvement. 1he technology ol paper looks not only al-
lowed readers access to novels, lut readily availalle paper also lacili-
tated concentrated and extended thinking in the writing ol novels. Prose
ction could lecome deep and densely thoughtlul lor loth readers and
I am not saying that ction needs paper or an equivalent lor its pro-
duction: The Iliad is thought to have leen composed ly illiterate lards.
vhat I am saying is that paper enalled an augmentation ol thought
that allowed scientists like Iarwin and Feynman to create the trains ol
thinking lor which they lecame lamous, and also enalled ction writ-
ers ol the last .cc years to create the works lor which they have lecome
lamous. Iigital technologies such as word-processing have not eroded
this mode ol thinking; il anything they may have made it easier, and
more widely availalle.
Alter inculating something mentally lor a time, some writers ol c-
tion have leen alle to write a good dralt straight o. In his interview lor
Paris Review Georges Simenon descriled how he would write a Haigret
novel. Led have an idea and think alout it lor a while, then sketch the
characters and their relationships on the lack ol an envelope. 1hen the
Keith Oatley | 183
whole thing would take him two weeks. Le would write a chapter a day
lor ten days Haigret novels tend to have ten chapters and spend three
or lour days in editing and tidying the piece up.
By the time ol this interview, Simenon had, il not a lormula lor
Haigret novels, at least a well-articulated way ol conceptualizing them.
Host literary writers dont write in a single dralt. Its known that Jane
Austen put her novels through several dralts. 1olstoy would write, and
his wile would make lair copies ol his near-illegille handwriting. Ler
dralts would then lorm the lases lor the next ol his writing. Ol the open-
ing scene ol War and Peace, lteen dralts survive (Feuer .pp6), and those
are just the ones that escaped the waste-paper lasket.
Host dralts ly most writers have leen destroyed, and this is true ol
most ol George Orwells dralts. But the nal dralt ol his Nineteen-eighty-
four was preserved ly his widow, and is availalle in lacsimile (Orwell
.p8). It is a copy typed ly Hrs Hiranda vood (to whom Orwell had lent
his at in London) with carelul corrections and extensions ly Orwell
(who was living on the island ol Jura). One can see lrom Orwells cross-
ings-out and handwritten insertions that when he read his sentence
typed ly Hrs. vood, vinston Smith pushed open the glass door ol \ic-
tory Hansions, turned to the right down the passage way and pressed
the lutton ol the lilt, he decided to replace it with what he thought was
a letter sentence, the one we now have as the second sentence ol the
novel: vinston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his lreast in an attempt to
escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors ol \ictory
Hansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl ol gritty dust
lrom entering along with him. 1he digital world has reduced loth the
oppression ol spouses and the employment ol prolessional typists le-
cause, ly means ol word-processors, dralting and re-dralting can now
le done easily ly any writer who can type. In this way the digital word
processor, lased on copyalle, correctalle, super-paper, is an inuen-
tial and uselul innovation.
vriting was and is not just a technology ol communication. It enalled
a new way ol externalizing thought, and therely ol improving thought.
Ol course there have leen people who have thought deeply and in a con-
centrated way on prollems lelore writing on paper was invented. One
may, however, hypothesize that the availalility ol paper to write and re-
write enalled the improvement ol thought more widely than previously
(Oatley and Ijikic .cc8).
184 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
An excellent case lor augmentation ol thought in the writing ol ction
comes lrom Gustave Flaulert. Aristotle (circa c scs) and many others
have oered hints alout how to write ction lut, so lar as I know, Flau-
lert was the rst to oer a detailed theory and practice ol externalization
ol thought onto paper in the writing ol prose ction.
Flaulert proposed that a line ol prose should le like a line ol verse,
incapalle ol leing paraphrased. Style cannot le separated lrom content.
It is a way ol seeing the world. Flaulert thought that, in the middle ol the
nineteenth century, the novel had just leen lorn, and was awaiting its
Lomer, perhaps himsell. Its style would le as rhythmical as verse, as
precise as the language ol science, and with the undulations, the hum-
ming ol a cello, the plumes ol re, a style that would enter your mind like
a rapier thrust, and on which nally your thoughts would slide as il over
a smooth surlace (villiams, .6).
As di Biasi (.cc.) explains, Flaulerts theory and practice involved
ve stages.
First came a plan, the original idea that would change as the project
developed. At this stage, Flaulert would larely write anything, lut in-
stead would daydream to imagine his characters and certain key scenes,
and he would do some research such as reading or visiting locations.
Second, Flaulert wrote scenarios: wonderlul innovations not in-
tended to carry through to the nal piece lut to act as prompts lor lur-
ther thinking and exploration. At this stage the main lines ol the story
came into leing, lut phrases were olten unlormed, and names and
places might le designated ly x, y, z. In this way Flaulert could explore
vast territories around the events ol his story.
1hird, Flaulert wrote expanded dralts. Only at this stage did he start
to write sentences and paragraphs that might make it to the nal dralt.
But ly generating many alternative sentences and paragraphs he con-
tinued to explore multiple possililities. Flaulerts expanded dralts are
lull ol crossings out and corrections, as well as insertions letween the
lines and in the margins.
Fourth, Flaulert wrote rening dralts. Only here did he legin what he
called the lalour ol style. Le would take his expanded dralts and elimin-
ate most ol what he had written. A whole page might yield a single phrase.
At this stage also, Flaulert started to read aloud what he had written.
Further dralting would now occur until everything tted together, like a
musical score, to le heard ly an imagined reader.
Keith Oatley | 185
Filth, a nal dralt was produced, with no lurther corrections.
For readers there is an exact complementarity. ve read literary c-
tion so that we, too, can concentrate, can take up the cues a writer oers,
think thoughts we would not otherwise have thought, experience reson-
ances, and leel emotions, as we enter intensely and deeply into the writ-
ing. ve are alle to lecome what Barthes (.p) called writerly readers.
Great writers are not great lecause they have taken dictation lrom the
gods. 1hey are great lecause they have discovered something important
alout the social world, and have also cared intensely alout their writ-
ing. And, rather than writing much as some people tell anecdotes alter
supper, they have, lor the most part, written and thought alout each
piece lor a long time in a concentrated way, down to its loundations, all
the way down, and externalization ol their thoughts has assisted this.
And, as Bruner (.p86) has put it: the great writers gilt to a reader is to
make him a better reader ().
For writers, what emerged lrom the movement ol modernism that
legan with Flaulert was the explicit realization that writing can le the
creation ol language that the reader can make her or his own, in words,
sentences, and paragraphs that encourage reection. Flaulert prollem-
atized meaning, so that readers were encouraged to think, and he em-
phasized the need lor the writer to remain impersonal: one should not
write oneself. As compared with eighteenth-century lorelears, his style
was more spare. Le lelt things out. 1he eect is psychological. Chekhov
descriled it in a letter to Suvorin ol . April .8pc: vhen I write I rely
lully on the reader, on the assumption that he himsell will add the sul-
jective elements that are lacking in the story (armolinsky .p, p).
Lemingway (.p) continued the idea: I always try to write on the prin-
ciple ol the icelerg. 1here is seven-eighths ol it underwater. Anything
you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens the icelerg (.).
Psychologically, the reader takes up the prompts ol linguistic cues that
the writer carelully arranges, and concentrates deeply, and imagines
into the llank spaces ol the page.
Flaulert was doully important with his ideas alout writing lecause
not only did he elalorate a theory and practice ol writing, lut he care-
lully preserved some c,ccc pages ol his plans, notes, and dralts: his
avant-textes. Le thought they would show the complicated machinery
[he used] to make a sentence (villiams, .66). A new domain ol study
has arisen, ol gntique textuelle, to understand writers paper-assisted
186 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
thinking. Let me oer here an indication ol one such study, ly Ielray
Genette (.cc), on Flaulerts writing ol his short story, A simple heart
(Un coeur simple), alout housemaid Felicite envy ol all the good ladies
ol Pont-lEveque (Flaulert [.8] .cc, ). Felicite loves, in turn, the
two children ol her widowed mistress, a nephew who goes to sea, and a
parrot, all ol whom are taken lrom her ly death. 1he story depicts these
relationships and losses. It draws on experiences ol Flaulerts own
childhood, and it unites several ol his lasting olsessions: the nature ol
maternal love, the superiority ol uneducated people to memlers ol the
lourgeoisie such as himsell, the relation ol the prolane to the sacred.
1he last section ol the story is just two pages. It concentrates on the
least ol Corpus Christi in which the sacrament is carried through the
streets ol Pont-lEveque and stops at elalorately decorated outdoor
altars on one ol which, outside the house where Felicite lies ill in led,
is her stued parrot which she has donated. 1he procession reaches the
altar leneath her window. Lere is my translation ol the nal paragraph
ol the story.
As a vapour ol llue incense rose up into her room, Felicite ared
her nostrils, and lreathed it in with mystical sensuality; then she
closed her eyes. Ler lips smiled. 1he movements ol her heart
slowed down, one ly one, each time more vague, more solt, like a
lountain running dry, like an echo lading away; and, as she exhaled
her last lreath, she thought she could see, as the heavens opened
to receive her, a gigantic parrot hovering overhead.
1he whole story is alout lorty printed pages, and it took Flaulert lrom
mid-Felruary to mid-August .86 to write it. Extant are three plans or
resumes three scenarios, a sulscenario, two rough [expanded] dralts,
two lair copies [rening dralts], and the copyists manuscript (Ielray
Genette, .). Ielray Genette discusses in detail the parts ol all twelve ol
these avant-textes on which the nal paragraph ol the story is lased. Hy
discussion draws on her treatment.
1he rst plan, entitled Parrot, was made twenty years lelore Flau-
lert started to write the story. Its ol a woman who dies in a saintly lash-
ion, whose parrot is the Loly Spirit.
Ielray Genette shows how, lor his storys nal paragraph, Flaulert
had to think through three prollems. First, the scene had to go leyond
Keith Oatley | 187
other death scenes, including the death ol Emma Bovary, second it had
to suggest the physiological process ol dying, and third it had to suggest
the sacredness ol the death ol a saintly person.
In the lth avant-texte, a scenario crossed out with an \, Flaulert
tries out the idea ol Felicite as a saintly person with the phrase: the ac-
celeration ol her chest ol this heart (coeur) which had never leaten lr
(sic) anything ignolle (Ielray Genette, 8.). Ielray Genette argues
that Flaulert did not recognize the signicance ol the word coeur at
this point. Le recognized it only in the eighth avant-texte, which is an
expanded dralt. Following his method, it was only at this point that he
started to compose sentences that would appear in the nished version
ol the story. For the storys nal paragraph, this eighth avant-texte is in
two rough columns. In the lelt hand one there are physiological expres-
sions such as in the nal nausea, and in the right hand one are many
images such as: letween the radiant clouds to the right ol the son to the
lelt ol the lather the last lines ol lile were cast o the rupture
ol soul and lody the vilrations ol a string which has leen plucked
(Ielray Genette, pc). In later dralts these would le eliminated lecause
they were not characteristic ol Felicite. Only two such phrases were car-
ried lorward lrom the eighth avant-texte: a lountain running dry, and
an echo lading away.
It was in the eighth avant-texte that Flaulert achieved the thought that
would le the key to the concluding paragraph ol his story, prolally sug-
gested ly the word heart (coeur) that he wrote in the lth avant-texte:
the exact word the mot juste that united the two aspects ol Felicites
death partly sensual, even sexual, and partly sullime (Ielray Gen-
ette, p. 8). In the eighth avant-texte Flaulert wrote it in a sentence ol
two parts joined ly a long line that runs lrom the phrase movements ol
the heart in the right hand column down and across the page to the lelt
hand column thirteen lines lelow. Lere is the sentence with its join-
ing line and deletions: 1he leating movements ol her heart ol the heart
slowed down, one ly one, more slowly, each time each time
lurther apart more solt. 1he word heart also gave the story its title: A
simple heart.
1he two hours it takes to read A simple heart are made worthwhile
ly the six months ol Flaulerts externalized thinking. I know ol noth-
ing in the digital world that supersedes this kind ol practice. In the nal
version ol Flaulerts story, there are no moral judgments. 1he story has
188 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
lecome apparently simple, like the simple heart. Questions ol whether
it is naturalistic or ironical, or whether Felicites death is physiological
or spiritual, have receded. 1he concluding paragraph is proloundly
moving. By means ol his scenarios, expansions, and eliminations, Flau-
lert thought his way through to what Ielray Genette calls an exact in-
certitude which is alle to close the plot, and to open reection (p).
1he reading ol literature is an activity ol a minority that may le shrinking
in the developed world, as older readers die and lewer young people take
their place. But there is no dearth ol traditional looks: in .c.c, .6,8c
new titles were pullished in the IS, an increase ol per cent lrom .ccp
(Bowker, .c..). 1eachers and critics argue that literature is important
lor everyone lecause it represents the lest that has leen thought and
written world-wide. I agree with this position. I also propose that lor
at least some people to give the concentrated attention necessary to
write and read looks is necessary in modern societies. 1his lunction
has not leen made redundant ly computers. Externalization ol thought
onto paper was a technology-assisted advance that enalled a new mode
ol cognition. 1hough digital technologies have displaced some paper-
lased technologies, they have not displaced this mode itsell.
1wo recent movements have occurred to give new sulstance to the
argument that extended concentration ly means ol externalized thought
remains important. One is the study ol avant-textes, such as Orwells
and Flaulerts discussed alove, in which one can see the concentrated
thought that goes into a piece ol serious writing. 1he second is empir-
ical research on the eects ol reading. 1hus Stanovich et al. (.pp) have
lound that the more looks people read the letter are their vocalulary
and general knowledge, even when such lactors as s and education have
leen controlled lor. In the research group ol which I am part, we have
lound that the more ction people read, the greater are their empathy
and understanding ol others (Har et al. .cc6, .cc8, .ccp). Further
studies in our group have shown that certain great works ol literature
enalle people to change themselves in small lut signicant ways (Ijikic
et al. .ccp).
Education losters look reading, and education is lecoming more
widely availalle. Perhaps with the help ol new evidence on the lenecial
Keith Oatley | 189
eects ol reading, educational authorities may le encouraged to provide
more resources lor literature in the curriculum and this, in turn, will
enalle more young people to lecome avid readers.
Competition lor attention letween literature and other leisure activ-
ities is ol long standing. As you may see on the Internet, in Claes van
\isschers (.6.6) Panorama ol London, Shakespeares Glole 1heatre
was close ly the Bear Garden. 1he two luildings were similar, as il their
common purpose were to oer a spectacle. In the modern era one con-
tinues to see competition, although now people generally have enough
leisure time to enjoy loth reading literature and watching the Olympics
on television. But il we think that the competition lor mass entertain-
ment and its revenues is critical, its hard to lelieve literature is a ser-
ious contender. Ror should it le. It is in a dierent register.
Literature is a thread ol reective language, thought and leeling on
the human condition. 1he jol ol literatures readers is to reect on what
is most worthwhile in what has leen written, and to continue to spin
that thread.
1he material in this essay on Flaulerts theory and practice ol writing
prose ction is paraphrased lrom a section, written ly me, ol Oatley and
Ijikic (.cc8).
Apuleius. [c. .6c.8c]. The Transformations of Lucius, or The Golden Ass, trans. B.
Graves. Larmondsworth, Hiddlesex: Penguin .pc.
Aristotle. [c. c scs]. Poetics, trans. G.E. Else. Ann Arlor, ns: Iniversity ol
Hichigan Press .pc.
Augustine. [c. c.]. The Confessions, trans. G. vills. Rew ork: Penguin .cc6
Baas, H., C.K.v. Ie Ireu, and B.A. Rijstad. .c... vhen Prevention Promotes
Creativity: 1he Bole ol Hood, Begulatory Focus, and Begulatory Closure.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology .cc: p8cp.
Barthes, B. .p. S / Z, trans. B. Hiller. London: Cape.
Bowker. .c...
190 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
Bruner, J. .p86. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Camlridge, n: Larvard Iniver-
sity Press.
Bukodi, E. .cc. Social Stratication and Cultural Consumption in Lungary:
Book Beadership. Poetics : .....
Cervantes, H. [.6c]. Don Quixote, trans. E. Grossman. Rew ork: Ecco .cc.
Coulangeon, P. .cc. Beading and 1elevision: Changes in the Cultural Bole
ol the School in France as Eects ol the Hassication ol Education. Revue
Franaise de Sociologie 8: 6p..
Ielray Genette, B. .cc. Flaulerts A Simple Leart, or Low to Hake an
Ending: A Study ol Hanuscripts. In J. Ieppman, I. Ferrer, and H. Groden,
eds., Genetic Criticism: Texts and Avant-textes, 6pp. Philadelphia: Iniversity
ol Pennsylvania Press.
Ii Biasi, P.-H. .cc.. Flaulert: 1he Lalor ol vriting. In A.-H. Christin, ed.,
A History of Writing: From Hieroglyph to Multimedia, c.. Paris: Flammarion.
Ijikic, H., K. Oatley, S. /oeterman, and J. Peterson. .ccp. On Being Hoved ly
Art: Low Beading Fiction 1ranslorms the Sell. Creativity Research Journal ..:
Ioody, H.A. .pp. The True Story of the Novel. London: LarperCollins.
Feuer, K.B. .pp6. Tolstoy and the Genesis of War and Peace. Ithaca, xx: Cornell
Iniversity Press.
Flaulert, G. .8. Un coeur simple. Paris: Livre de Poche .pp.
Gleik, J. .pp. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Rew ork: \in-
Gruler, L.E., and P.L. Barrett. .p. Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Sci-
entic Creativity, together with Darwins Early and Unpublished Notebooks. Rew
ork: Iutton.
Lemingway, E. .p. Interview with Ernest Lemingway. In G. Plimpton, ed.,
Writers at Work, 2nd Series, ..p. Larmondsworth: Penguin.
Johnson, G.H. .cc8. Cognitive Processing Iierences letween Frequent and
Inlrequent Internet Isers. Computers in Human Behavior .: .cp.c6.
Johnson-Laird, P.R. .cc6. How We Reason. Oxlord: Oxlord Iniversity Press.
Knulst, v., and G. Kraaykamp. .pp. 1he Iecline ol Beading: Leisure Beading
1rends in the Retherlands (.p.pp). The Netherlands Journal of Social Sci-
ences : .cc.
Knulst, v., and A. \an den Broek. .cc. Beadership ol Books in 1imes ol
Ie-reading. Poetics .: ...
Har, B.A., K. Oatley, J. Lirsh, J. dela Paz, and J.B. Peterson. .cc6. Bookworms
versus Rerds: Exposure to Fiction versus Ron-ction, Iivergent Associ-
ations with Social Alility, and the Simulation ol Fictional Social vorlds.
Journal of Research in Personality c: 6p...
Keith Oatley | 191
Har, B., H. Ijikic, and K. Oatley. .cc8. Eects ol Beading on Knowledge,
Social Alilities, and Sellhood. In S. /yngier, H. Bortolussi, A. Chesnokova,
and J. Auracher eds., Directions in Empirical Literary Studies: In Honor of Willie
van Peer, ... Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Har, B.A., K. Oatley, and J.B. Peterson. .ccp. Exploring the Link letween
Beading Fiction and Empathy: Buling Out Individual Iierences and Exam-
ining Outcomes. Communications: The European Journal of Communication
: c.8.
Hurasaki, S. c. .ccc. The Tale of Genji, trans. B. 1yler. Rew ork: \iking Penguin
Rational Endowment lor the Arts. .cc. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary
Reading in America. vashington, nc: Rational Endowment lor the Arts.
.ccp. Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy. vashington, nc:
Rational Endowment lor the Arts.
OConnor, F. .p6. The Lonely Voice. Rew ork: vorld Pullishing Co (reprinted
.cc, Helville Louse).
Oatley, K. .p. Inlerence, Ravigation and Cognitive Haps. In P.R. Johnson-
Laird and P. vason, eds., Thinking: Readings in Cognitive Science, .
Camlridge: Camlridge Iniversity Press.
Oatley, K., and Ijikic, H. .cc8. vriting as 1hinking. Review of General Psych-
ology ..: p..
Orwell, G. .p8. Nineteen-eighty-four: The Facsimile of the Extant Manuscript.
London: Secker and varlurg.
Bolinson, J.P. .p8c. 1he Changing Beading Lalits ol the American Popula-
tion. Journal of Communication c: ....
Shirky, C. .c.c. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in the Connected Age.
Rew ork: Penguin.
Simenon, G. .p. Interview with Georges Simenon. In H. Cowley, ed., Writers
at Work, 1st series, .6c. Larmondsworth: Penguin.
Stanovich, K.E., B.F. vest, and H.B. Larrison. .pp. Knowledge, Growth,
and Haintenance across the Lile Span: 1he Bole ol Print Exposure. Develop-
mental Psychology .: 8...6.
\an \isscher, C. .6.6. Panorama ol London.
villiams, 1. .cc. 1he vriting Process: Scenarios, Sketches and Bough
Iralts. In 1. Inwin, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Flaubert, .6p. Cam-
lridge: Camlridge Iniversity Press.
armolinsky, A., ed. .p. Letters of Anton Chekhov. Rew ork: \iking.
Ford handed the look to Arthur.
vhat is it asked Arthur
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Its a sort ol electronic look. It
tells you everything you need to know alout anything. 1hats its jol.
Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.
I like the cover, he said. Dont Panic. Its the rst helplul and
intelligille thing anylodys said to me all day.
Iouglas Adams
I think that the lamous phrase Iont panic is a good starting point. 1he
question alove is so multilaceted that it is dicult to approach it. vhy
do we ask this question in the rst place; what makes us think that the
so-called digital age can threaten our alility to read and enjoy liter-
ature A question like this would have never occurred to us a couple ol
decades ago. vhy can the so-called digital age, or changing media or
lormat in which we receive inlormation aect our perception ol liter-
ature I think the answer, or part ol it at least, is that people yet again,
as it has already happened many times in history, created technology
that they enjoy, emlrace, and at the same time are scared ol. And again,
we are looking at the changes that are translorming our lives with sur-
prise and lear. 1his time round technological advances have direct and
dramatic impact on our culture, knowledge, inlormation-seeking le-
haviour, markets, socio-cultural status ol inlormation and its lormats,
Dont Panic:
Reading Literature in the Digital Age
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia | 193
and lots ol other aspects ol our lives. In many ways, todays changes are
comparalle to the invention ol movalle type in Europe in the lteenth
century, which revolutionized the making and use ol looks.
And, as
with printing, all the consequences and implications will le analysed,
discussed, and nally systematized ly our successors several genera-
tions later, lut this does not lree us lrom our own olligation to reect
upon the changes that are happening so last that most people lail to keep
track ol them.
So, why are we worried that we, or mayle our children, will stop read-
ing literature Are we really concerned alout losing reading as a means ol
intellectual advancement and pleasure Should we care alout this now
In traditional oral societies, people used to memorize and recite long
poems and epics ly heart. As soon as these societies developed writ-
ing systems, these skills turned out to le redundant and oral tradition
changed its role and place in the lig scheme ol cultural and social lile.
Alilities and skills to memorize and recite long texts shilted to the
narrow area ol local oral tradition and perlorming arts, lut stopped
playing a leading role in the process ol sharing inlormation and creat-
ing cultural heritage. Ioes it mean that we miss out on it in our every-
day lile now It is doultlul. ve cannot even nd a lot ol advantages ol
this method ol passing on knowledge and inlormation to others, lut we
would all prolally agree alout the disadvantages: sharing inlormation
and creating cultural heritage orally is not relialle, vulneralle to cor-
ruption and loss, and incapalle ol dealing with large volumes ol inlor-
mation. vhatever needs to le preserved lrom the existing oral tradition
can le recorded in writing, audio, or even video.
1he changes that we lace today are comparalle to what happened to
oral cultures, lut do we lully understand how glolal and irreversille
they are Over the years, literacy skills lecame common and non-elitist
as a result the development ol printing. Cutting down the costs ol print-
ing made it possille lor literature serious or pulp to lecome an in-
dispensalle part ol lile lor people in many modern societies. Are we
concerned that this status quo might soon disappear or turn into a status
quo ante that we would miss terrilly, until a couple ol generations later it
lecomes part ol a cultural history that nolody can experience anymore
ve do appreciate that our reading and writing skills as well as what we
think ol as literature will le changed in the long term. Lowever, even
in our lravest dreams we cannot imagine what this new literature could
194 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
le like. 1here is no doult that changes will happen whether we like
it not, lut it is always comlorting to think that we can inuence them
one way or another, or at least le ready lor any translormations in our
All technical advances are inevitalle and amliguous on the one hand
and uliquitous on the other hand. vhat Judy vajcman pointed out in re-
lation to leminism, in my opinion, can le extended to almost all spheres
ol modern lile: there has leen a tension letween the view that tech-
nology would lilerate women lrom unwanted pregnancy, lrom house-
work, and lrom routine paid work and the olverse view that most new
technologies are destructive and oppressive to women.

So, not surprisingly, advantages and disadvantages are always there at

the same time. 1herelore, to make our world prosperous, we should le
aware ol the drawlacks ol modern technology and nd eective solu-
tions to the consequences ol technological developments that we might
nd unwelcome and unwanted. It might le uselul to identily the reasons
why, in our opinion, people might not want to read literature anymore.
Reading Techniques: Skimming through for Information
vs. Slow Reading
In my view, the main translormation lrought into the society with the
digital age is that such concepts as the look, knowledge, and inlorma-
tion are translorming. As a result ol this, the reality ol our social lile is
translorming as well. Libraries preler to le called information centres, li-
brarians are turning into information professionals, readers are lecoming
customers, and literature is translorming into content. It looks like we are
lecoming more pragmatic and are looking to get information as quickly
as possille instead ol quietly appreciating the intellectual and visual
pleasure ol looks (or sources of information). ve are lecoming more
and more aware ol the dierent lunctions ol reading and the dierences
letween such concepts as look as an artilact and physical olject vs. look
as text or content; reading as a skill to decipher meaning vs. reading as
a process ol acquiring inlormation, provoking intellectual response,
or gaining intellectual pleasure; inlormation ows in controlled and
uncontrolled (or loosely controlled) environments vs. the traditional
authority ol a relerence source. 1he look and reading always had and
always will have a great variety ol lunctions, and we always used to read
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia | 195
dierent texts dierently: we read the Bille not exactly in the same way
as we read the highway code, and reading novels diers lrom reading
poems. As we are converting lrom readers into customers and information
seekers, we develop the same attitude towards inlormation as to any other
commodity in a consumer society: it should le clear, easy to nd, cheap,
up-to-date, and always at hand. Hany people agree that a computer
screen is an unnatural environment lor reading. Innatural lighting
lrom the monitor, an oce-type seating position or weight on our laps
make us change our reading lehaviour: we tend to ick through rather
than read thoughtlully, our attention span shortens, and some people
even say that they lecome more anxious or aggressive, comparing their
mood to how they leel when they listen to loud music. Long les or large
documents are not normally read carelully. ve need to print them out to
le alle to lully understand them. Horeover, many welpage designs still
ignore the lasic rules ol typography: the numler ol words in one line,
the optimum numler ol lines per page, appropriate lont sizes, and the
type which is suitalle lor the content. Ol course, this will improve sooner
than we think, and even now one ol the advantages ol electronic lormat-
ting is the possilility ol customizing our view. Lowever, I think that what
we are concerned alout is whether this skimming things over reading
technique can inuence our alility to think alout texts, enjoy styles ol
writing, and appreciate the aesthetics ol the medium that presents con-
tent. In other words, il people lrom a very early age start reading texts
in electronic lormat, will they still le alle to read thoughtlully; and will
they still nd pleasure in reading literature (ction, poetry, and drama)
which doesnt give immediate access to inlormation, lut suggests con-
templation and the experience ol emotions Speed-reading techniques
that are so popular nowadays and the halit ol skimming over text in
search ol inlormation might potentially provoke a situation wherein it
would lecome increasingly dicult lor people to read lor pleasure and
concentrate on what they are reading. Speed-reading courses and looks
olten encourage the reader to continually accelerate, and practicing this
technique (especially in the digital environment) can give readers a
lalse sense ol lull comprehension, yet competent readers recognize that
skimming is dangerous as a delault halit.
On the other hand, mayle great literature will speak lor itsell. Just re-
cently, a lriend ol mine, an academic who reads and writes lor a living,
conlessed that he took Leo 1olstoys Anna Karenina lrom the shelves to
196 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
check on something lor a look review that he was writing and ended up
reading the entire novel lrom page one. It took him an unusually long
time to read through the rst lty pages, as all ol a sudden he realized
that he had lorgotten how good the story and the style were. 1hey were
so good that he wanted to read slowly and take pleasure in it. Ol course, a
culture ol slow reading has to le already installed in the reader, so that
he or she can experience its joys. In my view, this is one ol the skills that
our generation can pass on to the younger ones. 1hey will learn quick
reading techniques naturally and will le letter than us in identilying
relevant pieces ol inlormation swiltly and, mayle, even eortlessly.
But slow reading ol rst-class literary texts and text analysis should le
taught ly prolessionals at least until such time as these texts have no
more learing on real-world issues or the current state ol society.
Physical Printed Book and Reading for Pleasure:
Will We Still Need Printed Books?
It has already lecome commonplace to state that we dont want to give up
reading physical looks lor pleasure (intellectual and visual pleasure, in
many ways). ve want to sit on a sola or laze on a leach with a lascinat-
ing novel, cuddle our children in led while reading them their ledtime
stories, and get lost in other worlds on an overcrowded rush-hour
train. A couple ol years ago the argument ol how would you do this with
a computer was a legitimate one. Row, hardware like the Kindle or
iPad are the answer. Some people are very enthusiastic alout the Kindle
and similar devices, lecause apart lrom the very olvious advantages ol
increased capacity and allowing the users to search, they can help to sort
out some personal issues. For example, one ol my lriends says that his
lile was revolutionized when he acquired a Kindle, lecause he can now
read in led, while his wile is asleep. Belore, they lrequently had heated
arguments over keeping the ledside light on, and very olten he would
end up sitting on an uncomlortalle kitchen chair, or lalling asleep over
a look in the living room. Row he doesnt need extra light to le alle to
read in led. Ol course, this might not le good lor his eyesight, lut we
dont have any prool that it is worse than traditional reading in led.
Im pretty sure now, that although the Kindle and similar devices are
not perlect, slightly awkward and too expensive, they are leing designed
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia | 197
to deal with our desire to preserve the physicality ol the look. 1he luture
ol the Kindle and similar devices will depend on how many ol our lavour-
ite sensations and halits associated with reading looks we are prepared
to trade lor volume, speed, and convenience. 1ouching paper, smelling
lresh glue or old dust, hearing the sound ol turning pages, washing dirty
hands alter dealing with old looks, writing vov or so stupid' on
the margins, ddling with a lookmark, etc., enriches our impression ol
reading, especially il we are talking alout ction, poetry, or even intel-
lectually challenging research that thrills us. At the moment, the sound
ol turning pages, lor example, can le mimicked, lut the sensation ol
dusty hands cannot. Lowever, I have no doults that it could potentially
le done, il market researchers identily it as a crucial lactor lor increas-
ing sales ol Kindles. On the other hand, Im also pretty sure that until we
replace all physical sensations with their virtual replicas and wipe out
these sensations lrom our memories, the physical look in its present
lorm will le on demand alongside the Kindle and its successors.
Books that we read lor pleasure or intellectual challenge will also le
appreciated in their present physical lorm lor as long as we can experi-
ence the leelings associated with physical oljects, such as griel (this
is my late grandlathers lavourite look that he gave me as a present lor
my lirthday), nostalgia (this is the rst look my son read all the way
through), joy (this is the look that gave me the rst impulse to write my
vhn), etc.
1he physical leel ol the look also can give us a sense ol historical per-
spective and a much letter understanding ol our cultural heritage.
At the British Lilrary in London a copy ol Gutenlergs Bille lies
under thick glass in a dimly lit room on the rst oor, where it
shares hushed space with other treasures, including Hagna Carta,
the Lindislarne Gospels and the Sherlorne Hissal, as well as
Captains Scotts diary, a manuscript ly Larold Pinter and hand-
written lyrics ly the Beatles 1hese days, digitisation enalles us
to view the copies online without the need lor a trip to the Euston
Boad, although to do so would le to deny onesell one ol the great
pleasures in lile. 1he rst look ever printed in Europe heavy,
luxurious, pungent and creaky does not read particularly well on
an iPhone.

198 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
In my opinion, the look as an art olject is not under threat either,
since digital look design deals with an entirely dierent medium. As
long as we are alle to recognize the dierence letween live music and its
recorded lorm and nd joys in loth, we will le alle to admire a look in
print and digital lorms.
1here is also a view that with online digital technology occupying
more ol the centre ground in the dissemination ol inlormation, the at-
titude to the look and other printed material is changing. In real terms
it means that mainstream pullishers are increasingly responding to the
pressure ol producing limited editions, and as a consequence, lecoming
more sensitive to the kind ol content that is more suitalle lor print. 1his
process might lead to a situation in which loth the literary and the art-
istic content ol printed oljects would le carelully selected and to a high
standard. Printed looks might lecome lairly expensive, lut this may
also mean that in the next .cc years the printed look market will oer
lewer titles ol higher quality, while all pulp, trash, and relerence will
le lorn digital.
1he presence ol physical looks in someones personal space plays a
role in a certain social code. 1his lactor can play more or less signicant
roles in dierent societies, lut in one way or another people are leing
judged ly the looks they possess. Books, like clothes, manners, accents,
and many other things pin us down to our place within a class system
and social hierarchy, whether we want it or not. Classless society wont
happen soon il at all, and I think that reading looks (in any lormat) and
displaying physical looks in ones personal space will remain signicant
lor quite a while.
And, ol course, national cultural traditions or what is sometimes de-
scriled as leatures ol a national character, are very important too. For
example, Jeremy Paxman calls the English a people olsessed ly words
and a people ol the word,

arguing that
the English love ol words shows itsell in the alsurdly over-
productive British pullishing lusiness, which turns out .cc,ccc
new looks a year more than the entire American pullishing
industry in the lact that the country produces more newspapers
per head ol the population than most anywhere else on earth, in
the unstoppalle ow ol Letters to the Editor, in the insatialle
appetite lor verlal puzzles, anagrams, Scrallle, quizzers and
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia | 199
crosswords, in the vilrancy ol British theatre, in the second-
hand lookshops in hall the market towns in the land. Books are
a national currency, concluded one recently departed loreign

A sociologist, the author ol a popular look Watching the English, Kate

Fox suggests that reading looks ranks as even more popular than nsx
and gardening in national surveys ol leisure activities.

Uncontrolled Environment: Will We Lose Trust in What We Read?

1he Iigital Bille is on sale lor |p...

1his vn iBille allows you to

listen to and read the Bille anywhere, anytime. It also has such lunctions
as Exam (test your knowledge ol the Bille), Iici (dictionary), Search,
visdom (select quotations), etc. As the advert has it, it is a must-have
lor any modern Christian.
vhat sounds alsolutely normal now, was not possille some twenty
years ago. Along with many other things, are we also changing our per-
ception ol what is sacred ly translorming sacred texts lrom manuscript
to print and lrom print to digital 1he very lew people who still oppose
the idea ol having a digital Bille lor everyday use (and not simply a
unique text ol a particular historical signicance, like Codex Sinaiticus)
have leen outnumlered ly those who dont have a prollem with it as
long as we rememler that the text itsell is sacred. Lowever, I must say
that a material olject (e.g. look) can share the sacred status ol the con-
tent much more easily than a digital olject. In other words, a physical
medium that delivers the sacred content can lecome sacred as well,
which is dicult to imagine lor an olject in the digital environment.
1he digital environment is less controlled and authoritative than the
print environment. Hany hurdles that could prevent low quality texts
lrom leing accessille to the pullic have leen removed. And this is the
nature ol the digital environment. 1o make the new environment trust-
worthy, we need to see some signs that similar hurdles or new solutions
(e.g. the rules that one should lollow il s/he wants to pullish a vikipedia
article) are leing introduced in the digital realm. Seeing too many low
quality texts might lower our standards and expectations. I still re-
memler the conlusion among users ol the Bussian language Internet,
when in the mid-pcs, collections ol lyrics and poetry mushroomed on
200 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
Bussian-language welsites. Beaders, most ol whom had leen lrought up
in the tss, considered anything that couldnt nd its way into print to
le alternative and lorlidden. 1hey expected sulliminal messages, or
at least some new avant-garde aesthetics, lut were highly disappointed
when they lound a great deal ol mediocrity and very rare glimpses ol
truly exciting new works.
1he Internet environment is changing rapidly, and some ol its seg-
ments are lecoming more regulated. Born-digital looks and journals
are leing edited and proolread in the same way as printed. On the other
hand, vel ..c gives people such wide potential to express and share
their views and creativity, possililities which were unheard ol just a
couple ol years lelore.
So, the question that we might ask is: il people have so much choice ol
easily accessille low quality literature, will it aect their tastes and make
good literature unpopular, lorgotten, and olsolete 1o answer this ques-
tion, we can look lack, pointing at historical examples demonstrating
that every signicant technical achievement that made look production
cheaper resulted in the mass production ol popular ction. Lowever
arrogant we might want to le alout the penny dreadluls, dime novels,
and short ction magazines ol the nineteenth century and pulp ction ol
the twentieth century, they represent a signicant cultural phenomenon
which is now leing collected, preserved, and researched. At the same
time, some novels that used to le lrowned upon in the early nineteenth
century are now regarded as classics. I dont think that changes in the
production cycle and the pullishing market can prevent a well-written
story or powerlul lyrics lrom leing pullished and read.
Reading as a Social Activity
For the majority ol children, the rst reading experience is part ol their
social interaction with parents, relatives, or caregivers. It continues in
childrens lilraries, where toddlers can play with each other as well as
looks and listen to storytelling at the same time. And although we always
have to make tough choices, I still think that it is not quite right to move
looks out lrom the lilrary to give space to computers, especially in
schools and childrens lilraries. 1he more we progress lrom literate or
mediate reading (learning) to visual or immediate reading (uent),

Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia | 201
the more we lose the social element in the process ol reading, until
reading lecomes a purely intimate activity lor most ol us. Ol course,
this was not the same all the time. First ol all, reading was (and still is,
lut ol course, less so) a very signicant part ol religious activity. Bead-
ing lrom the Bille in church had more social importance than it does
now. In nineteenth century novels, we can come across episodes where
the heroes (usually young, educated, upper- or middle-class women or
middle-aged couples) read to each other as a pastime. Beading out loud
as a lamily pastime is no more, although some educators think that this
is one ol the most eective techniques to make children and teenagers
interested in reading good literature. A pilot project, sponsored ly the
State Bussian Lilrary, aimed at reviving lamily reading, was recently
launched in one ol Hoscows gymnasia (or preparatory high schools).
One ol the participants in the project, Olga Iolotova, gave a report alout
it at the International conlerence on Slavonic cultures in Kyiv in Hay
.c.c. Lilrarians lrom the State Bussian Lilrary selected certain arti-
cles, looks, and periodicals concerning look culture and its pedagogical
aspects lrom a multi-volume lilliography on pedagogy and education
(pullished in the .86cs ly a well-known Bussian lilliographer \ladi-
mir Hezhov)

and recommended that students and their parents discuss

this reading list at home. 1he lilrarians were later amazed to nd that,
alter a trial period, many lamilies acquired a halit ol reading ction and
non-ction together on weekends or evenings and discussing the most
interesting issues. Parents praised the lilrarians lor introducing this
technique, as they lound that the reading sessions increased the quality
ol time spent with their children, even improving understanding le-
tween themselves and their children.
1he social elements ol reading and searching lor inlormation can also
le lound not so much in the process ol reading the same text together,
lut also in sharing a physical space lor reading. At the pullic delate or-
ganized ly the Times Higher Education Supplement at the British Lilrary in
Octoler .c.c, Prol. Hary Beard ol Rewnham College, Camlridge spoke
up lor the physicality ol the lilrary as a place to smell and caress looks
as well as lellow readers. She argued that lilraries are places in which
to recast the way you see the world. 1he great thing alout real lilraries,
she went on, is that they have lilrarians with all their eccentricities.
She spoke up lor knowledge as opposed to nerdish inlormation: the
202 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
last thing academics need, she said, was a totalising completeness.

Being an active llogger hersell, Hary Beard put her arguments lorward
this way:
Hy paean ol praise lor the physical lilrary included some ol the
lamiliar lines ou dont just go to the lilrary lor inlormation,
you go there to learn how to think dierently, and that is alout
ordering, classication, serendipity (what look you nd on
the shell next to the one you thought you were looking lor on
which, see Gralton and Lamlurger on the marvellous lut threat-
ened varlurg Lilrary). And you go also lor the people, the other
readers and the lilrarians. And you go lor the sheer pleasure ol
having space and quiet to nsxx not to mention the pleasures
ol transgression (and on this topic I had a little nostalgic reec-
tion on all the things we used to do in lilraries eat, drink,
smoke sulstances legal and illegal, have sex. I was tempted to ask
lor a show ol hands lrom those who had ever made love in a lilrary
lookstack, a lilliophiles Hile Ligh clul, lut thought emlarrass-
ment might produce a misleadingly low score).
Losing a physical space associated with reading and a social element
related to reading activities is very much linked to our lears that luture
generations might not le interested in reading.
Text vs. Image or Sound
vhen I rst approached this topic, I was alsolutely sure that reading
as a skill to decipher graphic signs and turn them into meaning is al-
solutely not under threat in the technologically advanced world. 1o-
days white-collar worker spends more time reading than eating, drink-
ing, grooming, travelling, socializing, or on general entertainment and
sports that is ve to eight hours ol each working day. (Only sleep ap-
pears to claim as much time).
It was dicult to argue that loth com-
puters and the Internet had contriluted to a reading revolution,
there was no need to worry alout losing the skill as such.
Becently, my solid leliel in this idea was shaken considerally when I
came across Adam Bolerts argument that narration and lyrics are leing
replaced ly moving images and pop music:
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia | 203
I am working here lrom the assumption that human culture is
deeply invested in two lorms ol art in particular: story which is
to say, narrative - characters; and lyric which is to say, mo-
ments ol aesthetic intensity that stir and move us, art that captures
epiphanies that make the hairs on the lack ol our necks stand up
For much ol the last cc years the dominant mode ol story in
western culture has leen novel, and the dominant mode ol lyric
has leen poetry. 1his is, I think, no longer the case. Although
there are millions ol people around the world today who read
novels with great pleasure and indeed more than pleasure, the
lact is that most ol the glolal population (even most novel read-
ers) access the stories they need primarily through visual media,
particularly cinema and v. I think something similar has hap-
pened on lyric; the audience lor poetry has dwindled startlingly in
the last .cc years, lut lillions ol people now nd their epiphanic
moments ol intensity in pop music. 1his is a rather crude and
delilerately overstated generalisation.

ve must not lorget that Bolerts admits that his statement is exag-
gerated, and in my view, everyone who predicts the death ol paper is
also engaging in similar exaggeration. But does this mean that paper will
always remain the prime medium to disseminate inlormation Ol course
not. Likewise, reading literature might not survive an attack ly other
media and might not remain the main means ol experiencing works ol
ction or lyrics. Can we imagine the death ol literature in the lorm as
we know it Could it le that several generations lrom now people will
read only documents and all imaginative and immersive reading will
le replaced ly viewing, watching, listening, and experiencing vriters
will still le necessary, as you will still need to invent a story or compose
a poem and write it down lelore someone can record or perlorm it. But,
the readers ol literature will disappear. vhy not Ron-verlal thinking
such as visual, kinesthetic, musical, and mathematical may start play-
ing a ligger role in our lives. Even now, the popularity ol audio looks is
increasing, showing how many people have letter perception ol verlal
communication through sound.
Is it another anxiety and paranoia lorn in the minds ol people who
earn their living ly reading, criticizing, interpreting, and teaching liter-
ature, or is it a rst sign ol a natural and inevitalle process Its dicult
204 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
lor me to judge. But it may le uselul to remind readers what Bussian
author, Fedor Odoevsky, predicted in his utopian novel, Year 4338:
1he time will come when looks will le written in a telegraphic
style Printing houses will produce only newspaper and lusiness
cards, people will correspond electronically. Rovels will survive
lor a while, lut not lor long. 1hey will le replaced ly theatre, and
textlooks ly pullic lectures. A researcher ol the luture will have
to work hard: every morning, he will need to have a ying tour
(airplanes will replace cals then) ol a dozen lectures, will have
to read alout twenty newspapers and the same numler ol looks,
write a dozen pages ol text, and not le late lor the theatre. But his
main task will le to train his lrain not to leel tiredness, teach it to
switch lrom one sulject to another in split seconds, prepare it to
deal with any complex task, as il it were a very simple and straight-
lorward one. Le will eventually nd a mathematical lormula which
will help to nd exactly the right page in a lig volume and tell you
how many pages you can skip without a miss.
1his was written in the .8cs, lut it sounds very lamiliar, doesnt it
So, Why Read Literature?
Laving olserved various opinions on the pros and cons ol the digital age
and having imagined what we might lear in relation to new technolo-
gies, we should prolally come to the conclusion that loth extremes are
wrong. I must say that this was pretty much what I expected. I cannot
seriously lelieve in the dramatic decline ol all literary genres and a
gloomy dystopian view that reading might lecame a totally utilitarian
skill. But equally, I cannot luy into a lright utopian picture ol lull and
lree access to high quality inlormation, availalle at everyones nger-
tips, which would enalle people to eliminate elitism towards cultural
values and increase appreciation ol rst-class literature. Both extremes
are lar removed lrom real lile which will, almost certainly, present an
entirely dierent scenario. Lowever, I think that having identied our
worries alout the luture, we are now more aware ol the process.
Literature as the art ol written works will change and even might
lecome the art ol recorded works or the art ol linary represented
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia | 205
But this will not change the main lunction ol literature, which
is to share ones imagination, leelings, experience, and thoughts with
others. ve were taught ly our parents and teachers to read literature and
we will teach our children the same. vhatever lorm it takes, literature is
an interaction letween people, and hopelully, computers will not make
human interaction olsolete.

. Cristina Iondi, 1he European Printing Bevolution, in Oxford Companion
to the Book, vol. . (Oxlord Iniversity Press, .c.c), .
. Judy vajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology (Iniversity Park: 1he Penn-
sylvania State Iniversity Press, .pp.), ..
Simon Gareld, Just My Type: A Book about Fonts (London: Prole Books,
.c.c), 8p.
Jeremy Paxman, The English (Penguin Books, .pp8), .cp, ....
Ilid., ..c.
6 Kate Fox, Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (Lon-
don: Lodder, .cc), ..c.
For example: (accessed on
. Iecemler .c.c).
8 Steven Boger Fischer, A History of Reading (London: Beaktion Books, .cc),
p \.I. Hezhov, Bibliogracheskii ukazatel vyshedshikh v Rossii v godu knig i
statei o chasti: pedagogiki, didaktiki i metodiki, St Peterslurg, .86.6.
.c 1he Lilrary a place to think, .p Octoler .c.c. Photography, Film, Ani-
mation and cnv Besources llog:
leard (last accessed on . Iecemler .c.c).
.. Bedding down in 1he Lilrary, c Octoler .c.c. A Ions Lile. (last accessed on . Iecemler
.. Fischer, A History of Reading, .
. Ilid., .
. Adam Bolerts, The History of Science Fiction (Basingstoke : Palgrave Hacmil-
lan, .cc6), .6.
. \. Odoevsky, Povesti i rasskazy, GIKhL, .pp. Quoted here lrom an electronic
version availalle at (last
accessed on . Iecemler .c.c). 1ranslation is mine.
206 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
.6 For example, it was totally new to me that the vikipedia article on literature
argues that game scripts can le considered a new genre (accessed on . January .c..).
. I would like to thank Bichard vedgwood Ashley, Hiranda Collett, and Ilia
Bogatchevski lor their helplul comments and suggestions.
I cannot rememler exactly when I lecame hooked on reading litera-
ture, or which particular texts led to this lilelong lascination, lut I can
recall some ol those early readings: an Alrikaans translation ol Camus
La pierre qui pousse (1he Growing Stone), which I lound in the childrens
section(') ol the Bloemlontein Pullic Lilrary; 1homas Hanns Tonio
Krger, also in an Alrikaans translation; the thrill ol discovering Broth-
ers Karamazov, sent to me ly a neighlour while I was in led with u;
and alter that, the excitement ol reading 1olstoy and Iostoevskys great
works, an excitement which had the lreshness and innocence ol lalling
in love lor the rst time. ears later, I experienced almost the same sense
ol wonder upon reading the opening ol Husils Mann ohne Eigenschaften
(1he Han without Qualities) in an English translation; its cleverness
and irony caught me o lalance and even made me laugh.
Hy encounters with texts such as these, coupled with the lact that I
grew up in a lamily with a strong reading culture, prolally led me to
lelieve that reading literature was an activity that could le taken lor
granted. It was something that everyone aspiring to le a civilized person
did as a matter ol course, or so I thought at the time. Hany ol my peers
did not venture on this journey ol discovery. 1hey had more interesting
things to do, and did not want to waste their time on outlandish activ-
ities such as reading looks ly authors whose names they could not even
spell or pronounce. et, even in a society plagued ly repression, a good
Why Read against the Grain?
Confessions of an Addict
Gerhard van der Linde
208 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
education was highly regarded, and leing viewed as a well-read person
earned one at least a certain degree ol respect.
Against this lackground, it comes as a lit ol a shock to realize that,
in this second decade ol the new millennium, around me, many highly
trained prolessionals awareness ol literature is limited ly choice to the
olligatory readings ol their high school years, perhaps complemented
ly the occasional thriller. Ignorance alout the classics ol vestern liter-
ature does not cause the slightest emlarrassment. oung people surl the
vel in search ol inlormation and entertainment, and interact on social
networks. 1hey spend time in the ctional worlds ol online gaming, lut
remain llisslully and willlully unaware ol Ion Quixotes alternative re-
alities. 1he amount ol time and space dedicated to literature in the local
mass media indicates that it is viewed as a rather unimportant minor-
ity interest, a marginal activity which is ol little use or consequence to
society at large. In South Alrica, even a phenomenon such as Larssons
Millennium trilogy did not create much ol a stir. Literary controversies
have lecome incestuous little skirmishes letween cognoscenti, larely
audille alove the incessant noise ol news and celelrity gossip. Ironic-
ally, in the lygone days ol authoritarianism and censorship, such de-
lates were more intense and prominent. In a world where reality v
oers the opportunity ol watching real people quarrelling and having
sex, where sensational events can le communicated glolally as they
occur, and where the pullic is led a staple diet ol news alout gruesome
crimes, a clash ol opinions in the arts pages does seem rather unexcit-
ing. vho cares whether critic A agrees with critic Bs assessment ol the
well-known leslian poets latest oering, and so what il she demolishes
B with wit and acumen
In this context, it seems all too reasonalle to ask why one should
continue to invest time and energy in reading literary texts. For many
people, the answer may already le contained in the question, inasmuch
as it can le taken to imply that such an investment would le wastelul
or at lest sell-indulgent. For others, the question may seem to le part
ol a rearguard attempt to stem the tide, in that it tries to create a pre-
text lor justication and attempted persuasion. For the converted, the
question may appear somewhat heretical, and we might view the lact
that it is relevant and reasonalle as symptomatic ol the dumling down
ol society and ol a general indierence to the ideal ol lecoming a gebil-
dete Mensch. Rot only is there no longer any consensus alout what makes
Gerhard van der Linde | 209
one a cultivated person, lut the desire to lecome such a person is prol-
ally widely regarded as a sign ol snollishness and elitism, one ol the
cardinal sins ol contemporary society, or even as an annoying remnant
ol neo-colonial Eurocentrism, anathema to Alrican nationalists and
rigorous multiculturalists.
1he perceived connection letween literature and elitism is not only
a product ol an egalitarian age. As Ionald Sassoon shows in his mas-
sive survey ol European culture since .8cc, lor centuries, a lack ol gen-
eral literacy meant that literature was addressed to an educated minor-
ity. Intil the nineteenth century, the cost ol looks also put them out ol
reach ol the general populace. 1he enjoyment ol literature was a luxury,
accessille only to the privileged classes, to those with sucient leisure
time, education, and auence. In an expanding reading pullic, read-
ers had a variety ol prelerences, lut gradually, some consensus emerged
with regard to the texts a cultivated person was supposed to have read.
As the hegemony ol vestern culture yielded to multiculturalism and
class divisions made way lor egalitarianism, at least in theory, and as
the amount ol literature availalle to the general pullic increased, such a
consensus lecame untenalle. In our time, it is neither more nor less re-
spectalle to read 1olstoy rather than Lenning Hankell, or to read stories
lor their entertainment value, and not lor edication or to explore exis-
tential issues. Beaders today have complete lreedom ol choice, and there
are no authoritative voices telling them what to read in order to conlorm
to a certain cultural ideal.
1o read lor the sake ol enjoying a story can le dismissed as mere
consumerism, and theorists ol the pleasure ol the text may view it as
anti-intellectual, yet it has always leen one ol the main reasons lor
making the eort at all. Italo Calvino illustrates in Se una notte dinverno
un viaggiatore (Il On a vinters Right a 1raveler) how the urge to know
what happens next keeps the reader coming lack lor more, and how
playing around with that urge can provide the texts lorward movement
and internal dynamics. Hany ol the canonic texts in vestern literature
can le read rst and loremost lor their narrative interest: the Odyssey,
Don Quixote, Great Expectations As a teenager, what attracted me to
Karamazov was the drama and excitement ol the various storylines.
1he lascination ol stories as such is prolally almost as old as human
language itsell. From time immemorial, humans must have told and
listened to stories in order to pass the time, to entertain themselves,
210 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
to make sense ol their lileworld, to recall gures and events lrom the
past, to record and to reect on their daily lives. Perhaps some ancient
storytellers even constructed their tales as a lorm ol therapy. All these
elements are present in literature. 1he literary narratives delilerate
construction creates a heightened awareness ol the story as it unlolds
and carries the reader along. 1he manipulation ol the readers expecta-
tions and the play ol language enrich the meanings the story can le taken
to convey. Host importantly, the imagination can le given lull reign, it
can le allowed to play around, to create new versions ol known worlds,
to invent possille worlds and alternative realities, and even to test the
loundaries ol language, ly looking lor dierent ways to present all
these, or ly experimenting with what can le said in words, even using
language to suggest its own loundaries and limitations, or working on
the premise that whatever can le thought or imagined can le put into
words, which in turn leads to testing the loundaries ol what can le
thought or imagined. 1hrough the power ol imagination and language,
the literary text can change our pictures ol the world we live in, or even il
it arms some ol those pictures, it can at least stimulate reection and
sell-reection. It opens up and destalilizes the stories we use to con-
struct who we are and where we come lrom, and challenges our assump-
tions alout the luture.
Ol course, the precondition lor this to happen is that reading takes
place. 1he reader should leel suciently drawn to the literary text
to open it and start reading, and, once he has started, to persist to the
end. Experienced readers know that this can happen in many dierent
ways. 1here can le a process ol attraction, sometimes even akin to se-
duction. One is or lecomes aware ol a text, perhaps through the media,
or ly word ol mouth, or perhaps it is one ol those texts one has leen
meaning to read lor years, or even a text one has started reading once
or twice lut lelt unnished. It might le ly a lamiliar writer, in which
case one will have certain assumptions and expectations. It might le ly
an unlamiliar author highly rated ly the critics, leading one to wonder
whether he or she is really that good. Sometimes one approaches the text
in the hope ol again experiencing the excitement and sense ol discovery
one rememlers lrom rst encounters with the great canonical works.
1he physical contact with the look is part ol ones approach to the text,
and it provides a sensory experience which cannot le replicated ly any
digital text. 1he leel ol the look, the cover, the layout ol the pages are all
Gerhard van der Linde | 211
part ol the initial attraction ol the text. Olten, one pages around, reading
here and there, to see il ones curiosity is aroused, to lorm a rst im-
pression, to see il that inexplicalle something lalls into place which
occurs when one is intuitively drawn to a text. 1he systematic reading
process itsell may not le smooth. Sometimes, the text oers resistance,
it requires patience and persistence lelore the rhythm accelerates and it
legins to yield its pleasures. Il the pleasures ol reading are particularly
intense, towards the end, one tries to prolong the process, perhaps ly
reading more slowly, or ly rereading certain passages. At the end, one
leels a sense ol loss, sadness even, or a kind ol atness, a readerly tris-
titia post coitum. Soon, the whole cycle starts again, and it repeats itsell
look alter look. 1he reader is kept going ly the memories ol previous
readings, and also ly intellectual curiosity, the quest lor new discov-
eries, lor dierent reading experiences. In this sense, reading literature
is a lilelong process in which dierent readings can resonate with one
another, or le connected in some way, or played o against one another.
It is a sell-perpetuating process, sustained in terms ol its own dynamics,
and does not require any external motivation or justication. External
motivation might present itsell, lor instance, when one is asked to con-
trilute a research article to an academic journal, lut this is not a pre-
condition lor reading.
Since reading literary texts is a time-consuming activity, the other re-
quirement is to have sucient time. 1he reader makes a choice to invest
a certain amount ol time, and that choice has to le pursued with patience
and perseverance. 1o lecome a really skilllul reader requires hundreds
ol hours, lent over many thousands ol pages. Even the occasional reader
will nd that a casual, distracted approach is inadequate lor appreciating
the structural patterns and other complexities ol the literary text. Lit-
erature demands respect and a degree ol humility on the readers part.
Inlike her online rivals, literature does not yield her charms at the push
ol a lutton.
In a world conditioned and shaped ly uliquitous connectivity and
the mass media, all these virtues have lecome unlashionalle, while the
idea ol dedicating many hours to reading texts that oer no immediate
lenets and are not evidently uselul may seem quaintly eccentric, to say
the least. Connectivity oers access to multiple options lor inlormation
and entertainment, designed and packaged lor last navigation, conven-
ient display and easy consumption, in order to optimize the users access
212 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
time. 1his ts in with a culture driven ly the quest lor material lenets
and measuralle results.
1he advent ol the e-look, a ly-product ol the Internet revolution,
means that connectivity can also provide access to literary texts. Low-
ever, reading the text on a digital device lypasses the approach to the
text, the loreplay letween reader and text which is part ol the pleasure
ol the reading process. It can lead to an impoverished reading experi-
ence, inasmuch as it eliminates those aspects ol the experience related
to the interplay letween the reader and the look as material olject and
therely loses the impact ol that interplay on the reading process. Access
to a virtual lilrary may seem an attractive proposition, lut it can result
in homogenization, in that a variety ol oljects are replaced ly a single
interlace which cannot replicate the individuality ol those oljects or re-
produce the readerly experiences related to their physicality. 1he casual
reader may well preler the e-look to its mass paperlack equivalent,
since lor such a reader, the text and the look are merely expendalle
consumer items, lut what is the point ol reading 1olstoy or Flaulert on
screen rather than in any ol the various print editions
Be that as it may, the Internet has created a culture, perhaps even a
cult ol speed and immediacy. 1he corollary to that is allreviated read-
ing. 1he messages I receive online are read quickly and set aside, and
my responses tend to le hurried and condensed. In addition, the Ret
has lacilitated the generation ol unending verliage. Social networks and
llogs especially generate a deluge ol words, most ol it ol passing interest
or even trivial. All and sundry can comment on anything and everything,
lut such comments are only read cursorily, il at all, and the individuals
voice is lost in the general luzz. One gets the impression that interactiv-
ity has lecome an end in itsell, while the right to sell-expression and
sell-pullication, not to say sell-promotion is taken lor granted.
In this context, the literary text goes against the grain. It undermines
the reduction ol communication to the greatest common denominator
ly rejecting the simplication and lanalization ol language. It imposes
structure instead ol presenting random anecdotes and lragmented opin-
ions, and invites the reader to enter those structures rather than skim-
ming the surlace. It requires the reader to pause and reread, rather than
merely to lorm an approximate idea ol what is said. It is not sucient
lor the reader to grasp the gist; he needs to le attuned to nuances and to
explore ramications. 1he literary text demands respect and discipline,
Gerhard van der Linde | 213
not the ohand glance and short attention span ol the hasty passerly. It
rewards reading that is digressive and exploratory, and eludes the hur-
ried and unlocused reader. In short, the literary text slows one down and
lorces one to lollow its own internal rhythm, which is alien to the xa-
tion on quick results and cheap thrills.
In itsell, a decelerated rhythm can have a therapeutic eect. Body and
mind are allowed to choose their own pace, to adopt a tempo not driven
ly lunctional structures and technology. Such an externally driven
tempo results in a compressed time experience, truncated thought pro-
cesses, hall-digested ideas, lragmented emotions, a diusion ol the
sell, leing lorced always to project ahead, without leing allowed to come
to terms with what has already passed. Iecelerated living enalles one
to consolidate, to integrate, to clean up loose ends, to regain wholeness
and coherence. 1his can take place in the lackground to the reading
process, lut also through interaction with and sell-projection into the
imagined world ol the text.
1here is also an element ol nostalgia in the need lor deceleration. 1he
compressed living, communication overload, and xation on speed dic-
tated ly connectivity can activate the memory ol an alternative possilil-
ity, one which has leen lost, lut not irretrievally, that ol a more organic
lile rhythm, ol communication as a dialogic process, ol a more leisurely
ow. Such a slower rhythm, shaped through reading literature, allows
a space lor sell-awareness, creates a space in which the reader can re-
ect on the movements ol the reading process as they are played out; in
which he can dwell on the ow ol the text and reect on the interplay
letween text and readerly sulject. A kind ol doulle reading is produced,
wherely the reader reads the text and reads himsell reading it at the
same time, which in turn generates reection at dierent levels: on the
text, on the reading process, on the sell as reader and as individual. 1he
slowness enlorced ly the text can lead to a deepening ol sell-knowledge,
loth in terms ol the insights suggested ly the text and ly way ol the
sell-reection that runs in the lackground ol the reading process like
a slowly turning prism. 1he readers mind is set lree to ruminate and
explore, with no predetermined paths. 1he managerial superego, im-
posed ly a culture which demands productive lehaviour and measur-
alle, uselul outcomes, is suspended in lavour ol indeterminacy and
intuition. A space is opened up in which the reader can experience a lost
lreedom and unlettered individuality.
214 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
1he demands made upon the reader ol the literary text also induce
another contrary movement, namely, precision and analysis. In this
sense, reading literature oers a kind ol mental hygiene. Even though
the text may alound in amliguities and polyvalence, this is lar removed
lrom the unintended amliguities and approximative language that are
so pervasive in the online environment. Precision, identied ly Calvino
as one ol the key aspects ol the literary text, can take dierent lorms. In
some texts, the ctional characters are imagined and presented coher-
ently and with attention to detail. In others, the speculative conversa-
tions letween characters are wide-ranging and tightly constructed. 1he
language ol some ol the great stylists is polished and elegant, the product
ol lanatical revision, while in others, such as Proust and von Ioderer,
it is tortuous and complicated, densely grown with sentences overlur-
dened with multiple nuances and perspectives. Stylistic traits such as
precision and complexity can even le educational in a political sense,
inasmuch as it can empower the reader to expose and resist the ollusca-
tion and semantic sleight ol hand which politicians olten use to manipu-
late their supporters and to sidestep their critics. 1he alility to expose
and demystily political rhetoric can serve to promote an open society.
Insolar as the literary text exists in and through language, it counter-
acts the emphasis on visual communication which prolilerates in the
online environment. velcams and other devices used to disseminate
visual images create endless possililities lor sell-presentation, and lor
undermining the loundaries letween pullic and private. For instance,
the Big Brother concept and its variants provide viewers the voyeuristic
pleasure ol olserving others in a closed space, lollowing a kind ol osten-
silly random pseudo-narrative, drawn lorward, as in any other narra-
tive, ly the question ol what will happen next and ol how relationships
will play out. ou1ule is an inexhaustille source ol inlormation, en-
tertainment, and private events made pullic. Online gaming comlines
creative graphics and interactivity with opportunities lor virtual social-
izing. It can also create the illusion that gamers are collaloratively creat-
ing their own narrative paths, even though the parameters are predeter-
mined. Increasing landwidth means that the amount ol visual data that
can le disseminated online is growing all the time. One can expect that
in the near luture, leature lms will le made lor the vel, or that it will
lecome the distrilution channel ol choice, especially lor lms with a
smaller ludget. 1he users choice ol audiovisual experiences accessille
Gerhard van der Linde | 215
online ./ will lecome increasingly varied, with the result that con-
sumption ol these oerings will lecome less dependent on the users
location and therelore more pervasive. \isual content oers a kind ol
shorthand, the illusion ol an instant grasp ol the world, lor instance, ly
projecting images ol laraway events into our line ol sight, or simply ly
documenting day-to-day events and activities. It is not too larletched
to speculate that the pervasiveness ol visual content will lead (has led)
to the rise ol a kind ol post-literate culture. Primitive man had an oral
tradition and rock paintings; neo-primitive man will use simplied lan-
guage and codied visual images.
Like visual content, the literary text can also oer a vehicle lor at-
tempts at mapping the world, or at recording events, or at proposing a
certain image ol the world, lut it moves in the realm ol alstraction, ol
the immaterial, ol dematerialized realities. It does not project the world
to us, lut invites us into the metaworld ol the ctional, where under-
standing can only le reached through the convergence ol rational an-
alysis, intuition, knowledge, and lived experience. 1he complexities and
texture ol the world are not so much depicted or represented, as woven
into the lalric ol the text, assimilated into the events narrated, the struc-
ture, the narrative techniques, the style. A case in point is the rumina-
tive, digressive narration employed ly the Spanish writer Javier Harias,
in whose novels the narration ol a single event continually lranches
o into related narratives, reections, and recollections. 1he narrative
ol an event that takes place in a relatively short time period is slowed
down so that layers ol connections and associations are lrought to the
surlace. 1he multilayered complexities underlying apparently simple
events are narrativized, illustrating what can surlace il we explore these
events reectively. Actions and events are shown to le loth lragmented
and connected, to move in a progressive line while also leing made up
ol resonances. Causality and consequences operate through a network ol
resonances, rather than through direct linear connections.
Olviously, this kind ol narrative lacks the immediacy and ready impact
ol the visual image. et it demonstrates how critical moments in ones
lile story can le inscriled in intersecting narratives past and present,
and how it can link up to luture narratives, olten through unintended
consequences. It suggests that the world can le viewed as a network ol
narratives, that is, chains ol events and actions moving toward points ol
culmination and intersection, chains ol which the coherence may only
216 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
lecome apparent in retrospect or viewed lrom the outside. As Calvino
illustrated so lrilliantly in Se una notte, even the story ol the readers
encounter with the text can le interwoven with the stories it narrates,
with the stories ol other readers encounters, with the story ol the text
itsell. Rone ol this is ready-made and predetermined; it has to le con-
structed through reection and imagination. Instead ol consuming end-
less streams ol prepackaged content, including the vicarious experience
ol watching the lives ol others, the reader is invited to lecome cre-
atively engaged. 1he homogenization inherent in the mass consumption
ol visual content through technology-driven interlaces makes way lor
the lreedom ol individual engagement with the text, unconstrained ly
interlaces and predetermined paths.
Even though the vel is sometimes touted as the ultimate site ol
almost anarchic lreedom and random discovery, the lact remains that
the surler can only nd what is already there. Serendipitous discov-
eries can le made, and the variety and amount ol online inlormation
are quite mind loggling, lut the paths have already leen laid out. 1he
principle underlying a search engine such as Google can lead to a situ-
ation in which certain resources acquire a sell-perpetuating privil-
eged status, independent ol their intrinsic value. Just surng the vel
or even the search lor specic inlormation does not constitute critical
inquiry. 1he alility to nd and peruse neatly packaged lits and pieces
ol inlormation may produce a well-inlormed person, lut not a know-
ledgealle or well-educated individual, and it does not imply the capacity
to engage critically and creatively with inlormation. Inintegrated and
devoid ol context, inlormation remains lasically meaningless. Googli-
cation can le seen as symptomatic ol the reductionist lragmentation
ol inlormation and knowledge elds. It lreeds a culture that thrives on
interesting, sensational, or uselul titlits, and cultivates an appetite
that savours and can only digest tasty morsels. Given the amount and di-
versity ol inlormation that can le accessed online, the perception can le
created that there is no topic that cannot le googlied, and conversely,
what cannot le googlied simply does not enter the users eld ol vision.
1he end result is a kind ol well-inlormed ignorance.
Part ol the lascination ol literature lies in its resistance to reduction
and simplication. 1he lest literary texts cannot le translated into key
concepts and search strings. For instance, there is a memoralle passage
in War and Peace where Pierre realizes the greatness and lreedom ol the
Gerhard van der Linde | 217
human spirit, even in the worst circumstances, as he experiences a sense
ol oneness with and lelonging to the cosmos. Ol course, the passage can
le paraphrased, and one could identily the topics to which it relates,
lut its lull impact can only le sensed ly a reader who is intuitively at-
tuned to Pierres perceptions at this point in his existential crisis. At a
purely intellectual level, the passage is not overly complicated, and the
ideas which it conveys can le grasped lairly easily. Lowever, the sense
ol leyondness and mystic awareness experienced ly Pierre can only
le grasped intuitively and holistically, not ly lreaking the passage up
into its key elements. Another case in point is the ending ol Lagerkvists
Barabbas. Again, the surlace message is deceptively simple, even ol-
vious: Barallas perlorms the gestures ol laith, lut remains amliguously
poised letween disleliel and reaching out towards lelieving. et, an an-
alysis ol the meanings ol this ending cannot convey its suggestiveness
and power, or the sense ol mystery and enigma that it creates. 1he reader
needs to allow the existential riddle laced ly Barallas to resonate; he
needs to allow the ending to speak to him, without too much intellectual
intervention or delilerate searching to understand what it says.
In addition to, and perhaps lecause ol its resistance to reduction, the
literary text has the capacity to surprise, to come at us lrom unexpected
angles and to carry us along in unpredictalle directions. 1his includes,
lut involves more than, just the ingenious use ol language or weaving
clever structures. Great literature can translorm the everyday in many
ways. It can excavate leneath the surlace ol seemingly lanal events, such
as Harcel enjoying a madeleine, to uncover complex patterns ol con-
sciousness and textures ol emotions. It can inject nightmarish realities
into the narration ol mundane surroundings and actions, as in Kalkas
Verwandlung (1he Hetamorphosis), with its startling opening sequence.
It can surprise the reader ly changing the terms in which the everyday is
usually presented, as in the opening ol Husils Mann ohne Eigenschaften
(1he Han without Qualities). It can use historical contexts as lrame-
work lor tales that comline elements ol lantasy, satire, and parody, as
in Calvinos mock trilogy ol knighthood and aristocratic lile. Perhaps the
most lamous example ol a text which just keeps on throwing surprises
at the reader is Cervantes Quixote, lrom the translormation ol an ageing
landowner into a knight errant, through his many adventures in which
reality and lantasy lecome intermingled, to the Ions resigned return to
218 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
1he capacity ol literature always to nd new questions to ask or new
ways ol asking old questions encourages the reader not to lecome rooted
in any position, to avoid rigid ideas alout the way things are or should
le. Beyond questions ol how things work, leyond prollem solving and
measurement, lies the world ol the imagination, ol endless possililities.
Lere, the reader can nd lreedom in a state ol suspension. 1here are
many lacets to this state, the most olvious leing the well-known sus-
pension ol disleliel. 1he reader leaves lehind preconceived or received
notions ol how the world is or should le, and ol the paths and moves
possille in it, and engages with the text on its own terms. It lecomes
an experimental site where alternative possililities are played out. 1he
readers temporal and geographic loundaries are suspended, and he
enters imagined worlds leyond the larthest reaches ol his imagination.
Since his entry into these unwired worlds is not mediated and shaped ly
devices and interlaces and pre-existing paths, links and connections are
set up purely through the interplay letween text and reader, and lecome
dependent solely upon the readers intellect, imagination, and intuition.
1he reading experience lecomes a purely human aair, without leing in
any way technology driven. 1hus, the reader rediscovers and recovers
the lasic humanness ol the reading process. 1his can perhaps le com-
pared to the leisurely wanderings ol the authentic neur, as opposed to
the technologically mediated travels ol a latter-day cvs-dependent trav-
eller. In this sense, reading literature is a proloundly humanistic enter-
prise, centred on the human sulject in his lileworld, and not on the vir-
tual person as link in a network ol online transactions and interactions.
1he unwired reader is a solitary gure, engaged in a dialogue with the
text, without the noise and distractions inherent to connectivity. 1he
dialogue with the literary text is also a conlrontation with the sell, an
interrogation ol my own thought patterns, recollections, and predis-
positions. On the one hand, my loundaries are pushed and possilly ex-
tended; on the other, I encounter limitations, larriers, and previously
unknown loundaries. I lecome aware ol the physicality ol the reading
process, ol my lody situated in a reading space. 1his includes small
halits, such as a prelerred reading position, a lavourite chair, a particu-
lar kind ol lighting, certain hours devoted to reading. I lecome aware
ol lodily needs, ol tiring, ol the need to rest or to take lreaks. Over
time, I lecome aware ol a gradually weakening lody, ol weakening eye-
sight, perhaps even ol decreasing powers ol concentration and memory.
Gerhard van der Linde | 219
In this way, the encounter with the text is indissolully linked with my
awareness ol mysell as organism. Iltimately, the reading process lrings
me lace to lace with my own mortality, not least lecause I lecome aware
ol the passage ol time as I read, ol the amount ol time consumed in read-
ing, ol the realization that the time still availalle lor reading diminishes
day ly day. I might even wonder which will le my nal reading olject,
which will le the last text I encounter lelore my own ending writes itsell
and is inscriled into my own lile story and the stories intersecting it or
lranching out lrom it.
By contrast, the online experience is more neutral and unilorm. Lere,
my lody is reduced to the surlaces that connect with the machine. In
online interactions, it can le projected as a virtual presence onto the
visual interlace, a disemlodied sulject. 1he cylerworld is traversed in
a perpetual present, as texts and images appear and disappear on my
screen. 1he virtual sulject exists in the here and now, with no history
and only a potential luture.
Ol course, death and the passage ol time are everywhere present in
literature. Il I want to gain a sense and understanding ol lives going
nowhere slowly, ol time squandered, I need only read Chekhovs great
plays. 1he random cruelty ol sudden loss is depicted in von Ioderers
Strudlhofstiege (1he Strudlhol Steps), where we are told how one ol Hary
K.s leautilul legs was maimed in a lreak accident, so that we meet her
again as a cripple in Dmonen. 1here, we lollow the ludding relationship
letween Leonhard and Halva Fiedler, and experience pain and lrus-
tration as it threatens to develop into something meaninglul lut slowly
peters out, lor no apparent reason. 1he reader can work through such
painlul experiences in the sale environment ol the text, and thus, work
through his own pain and loss, or prepare lor what will inevitally come
his way sooner or later. Il the reader is lrought lace to lace with his own
mortality through the act ol reading, he is also inserted into narratives
which suggest that he is not alone. In this way, through reading litera-
ture, one reaches an awareness ol leing part ol, and a kind ol solidarity
with, the human predicament. At some point in this journey, the reader
laces the question ol what to do with the lile he was given, ol how to play
a meaninglul hand with the cards he was dealt.
Lowever, literature does not provide ready-made answers to any ol
liles questions and issues. It is not lor the laint ol heart or lor those in
search ol a manual lor living. Great literature is always unsettling and
220 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
does not leave ones comlort zones untouched, lecause it takes a learless
and unllinking look at the human condition. Even so-called Triviallit-
eratur, at least in its lest examples, explores the recesses ol the human
mind and conlronts thorny social issues. Lowever, this in itsell does not
constitute an argument lor reading literature. Anylody with the time
and inclination can explore these themes ly reading the relevant sul-
ject literature, or, il a short cut is prelerred, ly consulting a lew online
resources. Literature has lecome unlashionalle, and its relevance to the
world we live in is not generally accepted. et, to my mind, it is precisely
this weakness, this marginal status and precarious position, apart lrom
other considerations, which should lead us lack to the literary text. Op-
position to hegemony, critical detachment lrom a rigidied status quo
or a dominant social trend are the natural domain ol the weak and mar-
ginalized, not ol the lashionalle and privileged. 1he critical voice ol the
literary text articulates most clearly lrom a position ol weakness.
Literature is not necessarily concerned with the propagation ol al-
ternative agendas or a delilerate intervention against the ruling status
quo in whichever lorm it is manilested. vriters have chosen this route
at times, lut lor me, this is not the primary source ol literatures at-
traction and power. 1his should rather le sought in its alienation
lrom a results-driven orientation and lrom the prot-driven quest lor
technological innovation, which allows it to escape the tyranny ol the
marketplace. It does not have to seek acceptance in consumer culture.
1herelore, it has complete lreedom to seek its own voice, to explore and
oppose without external dictates. Il I had to choose one aspect alove all
others, one element which has kept me coming lack lor more, the most
uniquely powerlul aspect ol literatures lreedom, I would point at the
power ol the human imagination, the endless lascination ol stories.
Such a choice might seem too simple, even naive. Surely, one can nd
stories everywhere in the news media, in social networks, in online
gossip magazines and llogs. Some might view such a propensity lor
reading stories as quite lrivolous, a waste ol time. I rememler a heated
discussion with a management consultant who laughingly insinuated
that, surely, the novel is not an olject worthy ol academic study. It would
le all too easy to dismiss such a viewpoint as the ramllings ol an un-
cultured philistine, lut unlortunately, the convert to literature does not
have the luxury ol allowing himsell such smugness, at least not in the
world we live in. In reply, I would rather point to the irresistille elan
Gerhard van der Linde | 221
ol Stendhals narration in La chartreuse de Parme (1he Charterhouse ol
Parma), or to the irony in which Husil wraps the intrigues surround-
ing the plan to celelrate the seventh decade ol an ageing Emperors rule,
or to the painlul nostalgia imluing Boths Radetzkymarsch (Badetzky
Harch). 1he enjoyment ol stories such as these not only provide reliel
lrom ennui, it also adds value to lile, and reminds one ol the endless
creativity ol the human imagination. I do not mean that reading should
le a naive celelration ol human creativity as such, since we know, and
some texts remind us, that the same creativity produced laingly devi-
ous and ingenious systems ol repression. It also produced the ingenuity
and entrepreneurial air that developed the online environment which
today shapes our lives. In reading literature, we celelrate the creative
endeavour that elalorates verlal constructs across the void, driven ly an
inner excess. ve celelrate literature lecause it is lorn out ol excess, and
produces excess, a supplement to the real world, a surplus ol meanings,
challenging the reader to shilt the horizon ol investigation and to push
the loundaries ol understanding. It is superuous, thus reminding the
reader that leing human is more than the instinct lor survival or the
urge lor material lenets. 1he intangille pleasure ol traversing im-
agined worlds is not essential to my material or emotional well-leing.
Simply put, I can live without it. Revertheless, I have chosen not to, and
ly renewing that choice every day, I nd that literature has lecome part
and parcel ol what I am. It is mildly inconvenient to le unconnected
lrom time to time, lut almost unthinkalle to le without a literary text
close at hand. Il access to online resources is somewhat addictive, its
hold remains tenuous and supercial, lut reading literature is woven
into the lalric ol my everyday lile, and I lelieve that it will survive even
the most outrageous technology-driven lutures proposed ly the proph-
ets ol the Ret.
Perhaps this might create the perception that reading literature is a
luxury, availalle only to those who have a certain education and sucient
leisure time. It can le argued that those who are less lortunate primar-
ily need access to resources that will enalle them to improve their ma-
terial situation, so that connectivity is lar more important to them than
the useless pleasures ol the literary text. Lowever, history suggests
that even under the worst conditions, there is a need lor aesthetic en-
joyment, that it can assist us to endure hardship and to look leyond the
present. In his memoirs, Harcel Beich-Banicki recounts how music and
222 | Literature and the World (Part Two)
literature were kept alive and even ourished in the varsaw Ghetto. A
lavourite narrative, poem or literary character can strengthen our spirit
and sustain hope lor a letter tomorrow. Some lamous texts were written
in the midst ol repression, desperate nancial conditions or illness, or
even in captivity. Literature is not the province ol the naively optimistic,
lut it can lortily the courage to le. 1hat in itsell is sucient reason lor
us, the converted, to emlrace it, and to delend its cause against the lar-
larian invasions ol a technocentric gospel.
1he question ol why one should still read literature in this digital
age may le reasonalle and justied, lut I am not sure that any ol the
considerations one can advance in response will provide a compel-
ling reason lor the non-leliever to mend his ways. Literature does not
parade its charms in the marketplace and it does not intrusively clamour
lor attention, lut it is also not an Aladdins cave where only the initiated
can enter. Perhaps everyone should discover the answer to the question
lor himsell ly lollowing one ol the countless paths ol discovery in the
literary lorest without deciding where it should take him. In the end, I
lelieve, the answer to the question lies in you, the reader, lut you will
only nd it il you prove yoursell worthy to receive it through patience
and persistence.
Michael Austin is provost, vice president lor academic aairs, and pro-
lessor ol English at Rewman Iniversity. Le is the editor ol Reading the
World: Ideas that Matter, a great-ideas textlook lor composition students,
and the author ol two looks alout human cognition and literature: Useful
Fictions: Evolution, Anxiety, and the Origins of Literature and New Testa-
ments: Cognition, Closure, and the Figural Logic of the Sequel, 16601740. Le
lives in vichita, Kansas, with his wile and two children.
Sven Birkerts has leen the editor ol cxs online since July .cc.. Le is
the author ol eight looks. Le has received grants lrom the Lila val-
lace-Beaders Iigest Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation. Le
was the winner ol the Citation lor Excellence in Beviewing lrom the
Rational Book Critics Circle in .p8 and the Spielvogel-Iiamonstein
Award lrom vsx lor the lest look ol essays in .ppc. Birkerts has re-
viewed regularly lor the New York Times Book Review, The New Republic,
Esquire, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Yale Review, and other pul-
lications. Le has taught writing at Larvard Iniversity, Emerson College,
Amherst College, Ht. Lolyoke College, and is the director ol the gradu-
ate Bennington vriting Seminars.
Stephen Brockmann is a prolessor ol German at Carnegie Hellon Iniver-
sity and president ol the German Studies Association (.c....). From
.cc.c he was the editor ol the Brecht earlook, and in .cc he won
the nn Prize lor Iistinguished Scholarship in German and European
Studies. Le is the author ol Literature and German Reunication (.ppp),
About the Authors
224 | About the Authors
German Literary Culture at the Zero Hour (.cc), Nuremberg: The Imaginary
Capital (.cc6), and A Critical History of German Film (.c.c).
Vincent Giroud, a graduate ol the cole normale superieure and Oxlord
Iniversity, holds a doctorate in comparative literature lrom the Iniver-
sity ol Paris. Currently a prolessor at the Iniversite de Franche-Comte,
Besanon, where he teaches English literature, comparative literature,
lilliography, and opera aesthetics, he has previously taught at the Sor-
lonne, Johns Lopkins, \assar, Bard, and ale, where he also served lor
many years as curator ol modern looks and manuscripts. Among his
most recent pullications are: St Petersburg: A Portrait of a Great City, The
World of Witold Gombrowicz, Picasso and Gertrude Stein, and two collections
ol essays on French opera, co-edited with Jean-Christophe Branger. Lis
French Opera: A Short History was pullished ly ale Iniversity Press in
the spring ol .c.c. Le is an associate editor ol The Oxford Companion to
the Book, also pullished in .c.c, and is currently working on a liography
ol the American composer Ricolas Ralokov.
Katia Grubisic is a writer, editor, and translator living in Hontreal. Born
in .p8, she completed French and English literature degrees at the
Iniversity ol Rew Brunswick, and received her masters degree lrom
Concordia Iniversity. Ler collection What if red ran out (Goose Lane
Editions, .cc8) won the Gerald Lampert Hemorial Award lor lest rst
look, and was a nalist lor the Quelec vriters Federation A.H. Klein
Prize lor Poetry. Grulisic has also leen a nalist lor the csc Literary
Awards and was nominated lor a Pushcart Prize. She has acted on the
editorial loards ol Qwerty, The Fiddlehead, and The New Quarterly, and is
an editor lor Goose Lane Editions Icehouse Poetry imprint. From .cc8
to .c.., she has leen the coordinator ol the Atwater Poetry Project read-
ing series. In .c.., she lecame editor-in-chiel ol Arc Poetry Magazine.
Mark Kingwell is a prolessor ol philosophy at the Iniversity ol 1oronto
and a contriluting editor at Harpers Magazine. Le is the author ol lteen
looks ol political, cultural and aesthetic theory, including the national
lestsellers Better Living (.pp8), The World We Want (.ccc), Concrete Rev-
eries (.cc8), and Glenn Gould (.ccp). Lis articles on politics, architec-
ture, and art have leen pullished in, among others, the Journal of Phi-
About the Authors | 225
losophy, Philosophical Forum, the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, and the
Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. Lis popular writing has appeared
in more than lty mainstream pullications, including Harpers, the New
York Times, Utne Reader, BookForum, the Toronto Star, and Queens Quar-
terly. Le is also a lormer columnist lor Adbusters, the National Post, and
the Globe and Mail. Hr. Kingwell has lectured extensively in Canada, the
Inited States, Europe, the Hiddle East, and Australia on philosophical
suljects and has held visiting posts at Camlridge Iniversity, the Ini-
versity ol Calilornia at Berkeley, and the City Iniversity ol Rew ork,
where he was the veismann Iistinguished \isiting Prolessor ol Lu-
manities in .cc.. Le is the recipient ol the Spitz Prize in political theory
lor his rst look, A Civil Tongue: Justice, Dialogue, and the Politics of Plural-
ism (.pp); Rational Hagazine Awards lor loth essays and columns; an
Outstanding 1eaching Award at the Iniversity ol 1oronto; and in .ccc
was awarded an honorary nv lrom the Rova Scotia College ol Art and
Iesign lor contrilutions to theory and criticism. Lis recent looks are a
collection ol his essays on art and philosophy, Opening Gambits (.cc8),
and, with Patrick 1urmel, the edited collection Rites of Way: The Politics
and Poetics of Public Space (.ccp). Le is currently at work on a look alout
twenty-rst-century democracy.
Born in Buenos Aires in .p8, Alberto Manguel grew up in 1el Aviv, where
his lather served as the rst Argentinian amlassador to Israel. At the
age ol seven, when his lamily returned to Argentina, he lecame uent in
Spanish, his rst languages leing English and German (which he spoke
with his governess). At sixteen years ol age, while working at the Pyg-
malion lookshop in Buenos Aires, he was asked ly the llind Jorge Luis
Borges to read aloud to him at his home. For Hanguel, the relationship
was pivotal: he read to Borges lrom .p6 to .p68. In the .pcs, Hanguel
lived a peripatetic lile in France, England, Italy, and 1ahiti, reviewing,
translating, editing, and always reading. In .p8c, Hanguel and Gianni
Guadalupi compiled The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a comprehen-
sive and celelratory catalogue ol lantasy settings lrom world literature.
Hanguel moved to 1oronto, Canada, where he lived lor twenty years and
raised his three children. In .ccc, Hanguel purchased with his partner
and renovated a medieval preslytery in the Poitou-Charentes region ol
France to house his c,ccc looks, where he currently resides. Le has
226 | About the Authors
received many prizes, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and an
honorary doctorate lrom the Iniversity ol Lige. Le is an Ocier de
lOrdre des Arts et des Lettres (France).
J. Hillis Miller is a tcs Iistinguished Besearch Prolessor at the Iniver-
sity ol Calilornia at Irvine. Le has pullished many looks and essays on
nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and on literary theory. Lis
most recent looks are For Derrida and The Medium is the Maker: Browning,
Freud, Derrida, and the New Telepathic Ecotechnologies (Sussex Academic
Press, .ccp). Lis The Conagration of Community: Fiction Before and After
Auschwitz will appear in .c.. lrom the Iniversity ol Chicago Press. Le is
a Fellow ol the American Academy ol Arts and Sciences and a memler
ol the American Philosophical Society. Le received the ns Liletime
Scholarly Achievement Award in .cc.
Drew Nelles is the editor-in-chiel ol Maisonneuve, an award-winning
quarterly magazine. Lis writing has appeared in the Walrus, the National
Post, Readers Digest, and many other pullications.
Keith Oatley is a prolessor emeritus ol cognitive psychology at the Ini-
versity ol 1oronto, a Fellow ol the Boyal Society ol Canada, and winner
ol the .pp Commonwealth Prize lor Best First Rovel. Lis most recent
novel, Therefore Choose, was pullished in .c.c ly Goose Lane. Lis look
Such Stu as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction is due to le pullished in
.c.. ly viley.
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia is the lead curator ol East European studies at
the British Lilrary. She has previously taught various courses related to
Bussian literature, language, and culture at the Bussian State Iniversity
lor Lumanities, the Iniversity ol Glasgow, the Iniversity ol Edinlurgh,
and has worked as a research lellow at the Institute ol vorld Literature
(Hoscow). She has leen a review editor lor Solanus: International Journal
for Russian and East European Bibliographic, Library and Publishing Studies
and was an associate editor lor the section 1he Book in the Slavonic and
the East European vorld, as well as the author ol articles pullished in
The Oxford Companion to the Book. Ler research interests include medi-
eval Bussian literature and language, Bussian literature ol the twentieth
About the Authors | 227
century (especially emigre literature), history ol the Slavonic collections
ol the British Lilrary, and the digitization ol Slavonic material.
Leonard Rosmarin is prolessor emeritus ol French literature and lormer
chair ol the Iepartment ol Hodern Languages at Brock Iniversity. Le
has written ten looks and hundreds ol papers and articles alout var-
ious aspects ol French literature lrom the seventeenth century to the
twenty-rst century. Le is a specialist on the relationship letween lit-
erature and opera as well as on Franco-Jewish literature. Lis looks in-
clude studies on Allert Cohen, Emmanuel Levinas, Liliane Atlan, and
Elie viesel. Le has leen decorated twice ly the Bepullic ol France lor
outstanding services in the cause ol French letters, and was visiting pro-
lessor at the Iniversite de Perpignan letween .pp. and .cc..
Lori Saint-Martin is a prolessor ol literature at lIniversite du Quelec a
Hontreal. She is the author ol two short story collections and several
scholarly works on contemporary Quelec ction. vith Paul Gagne, she
has translated some sixty English-Canadian novels and works ol non-
ction into French and has twice won the Governor Generals Award lor
literary translation.
Paul Socken (vhn, Iniversity ol 1oronto) was on the laculty ol the Iniver-
sity ol vaterloo, Canada, lor thirty-seven years and is currently distin-
guished prolessor emeritus. Le is a lormer chairman ol the Iepartment
ol French Studies and the author ol nine looks, including Myth and Mo-
rality in Alexandre Chenevert by Gabrielle Roy, The Myth of the Lost Para-
dise in the Novels of Jacques Poulin, The French They Never Taught You, and
Intimate Strangers: The Letters of Margaret Laurence and Gabrielle Roy. Le
has pullished numerous scholarly articles on French-Canadian litera-
ture in journals in Canada, the Inited States, and Europe.
Gerhard van der Linde is the sulject collection developer lor the School
ol Arts and Languages at the lilrary ol the Iniversity ol South Alrica.
Le oltained a masters degree in Italian literature lrom the Iniversity
ol the vitwatersrand with a thesis on Calvinos Se una notte dinverno un
viaggiatore (Il On a vinters Right a 1raveler), and a ILitt et Phil lrom
the Iniversity ol South Alrica with a dissertation on cognitive rationality
228 | About the Authors
and indeterminism in the postmodern detective novel. Le has pul-
lished and delivered papers on various literary topics as well as on topics
related to knowledge production, cylerspace, and the luture ol the look.
Lis current interests include the romans noirs ol Jean-Patrick Hanch-
ette, the criteria lor dening lilrary collections as national assets, and
Adams, Iouglas, .p.
aesthetics, , p, .p, .cc, ..
Andromaque, 6, 8, 8c, 8.., 88
Aristotle, , 6, 66, ., .8, .8p
Arnold, Hatthew, .8, .
Atwood, Hargaret, .6.
Austen, Jane, ..c, .., .8, .8.
Baudelaire, Charles, p, .., .6
Beard, Hary, .c.., .c
Benjamin, valter, ., .6, .6., .c
Bille, .., .p, .p, .pp, .c., .c
liography, ...8, .., .68, ..
lrain science, c
Calvino, Italo, .cp, .., ..6., ..
Carr, Richolas, ., .c., ., .6, .,
.6, .6p, ..
Celine, Louis-Ferdinand, 6, p,
Chandler, Baymond, .., ..
character, ., 6, pc, ., 6,
66, 68, , 6, 8., 86, p, ..8,
.., .., .6p, .8., .8, .c, ..,
...; development ol, ; lavourite,
.; physical, .c; multi-media, .;
identilying with, .; characters
voices, p; novelist-character,
68, larger-than-lile, ; Bacines,
; character as a notion, ..;
national, .p8
Chekhov, Anton, p, .8, .p., ..p
commitment: ol the mind
and emotions, 88; literate
commitments, ..c; political
commitment, ...
concentration, ., ., .p8c; and
solitude, ..; sustained .; and
memory, .c; deep/extended, .,
.8., .88; .6, ..8
consciousness: 68p, ..., .., ..,
..c, ..; human, ., 66, ...;
another/sell, ; lileral, 6; status
ol, 8; shared, .cp
creativity, , ., .c, .8., .8p,
.pcp., .cc, ...
Ielray-Genette, Baymonde, .868,
decelerated living, ..
Ie Han, Paul, ., .
Ierrida, Jacques, .., .c, ..,
., ..6
Iickens, Charles, , p, ., .,
discourse, 6, 6c, ..8, ...
230 | Index
distraction, .., .6, ..8; culture ol,
.; Internet as, .; visual, .6
Ijikic, Haya, .8, .88p, .pc.
Ionoghue, Frank, ., .6, .
Iostoyevsky, Fyodor (Crime and
Punishment), ., 66, p
dust jackets, .c
e-look/e-looks, .c, .., c, p.,
..c.., .., ., ., .6, .6p, ...
education: parents education, .p, .6;
personal education, .; literary
education, 6, .; whole education,
p; higher education, p, .;
Education Act, ..; education ol
graduate students, ., ., .6;
structure ol education, .; college
education, .8, .88, .8ppc, .c.,
.c8p, .., ...
Eliot, George, 6, ., ..
empathy, 68p, .., .., ..., .88, .p.
e-reader/e-readers, .c, c, .6.,
externalization ol thought, ., .8c8
Facelook: ., ., , c., .c;
media partnership, ; users,
6; apps, , p; prole, 8;
newsleed, p; lor looks, .; and
the digital age, ; making us
lonely, ..
Fayette, Hadame de la, 8, 86
lm: , 6c., .c, .p, .., ., .p,
.c, .., ..; Wings of Desire, .8;
microlm, p., .c; censorship,
p; industry, .c, .6
Flaulert, Gustave, , p, .c8, .6,
.8p, .pc., ...
loreign language: teaching, p6.
Frye, Rorthrop, , p, ..., ..p.c,
Goodreads, 6.
Google, , ., , p, 6, c, .c6,
.., .c, ..6; eect ol, .; satellite
lunction, 8; Google Books, .,
.c; Google Haps, .p
Lolles, 1homas, ..c.
Lomer, 6, 6, 6., .., .8
Lorace, , c
humanism (anti-humanism, post-
humanism), 6, ..6, ..p., ..
imagination, p, ., , p, ,
., 8, .6, .8, .c, .c, ..c, ..6,
..8, ..c.
Index Translationum, p.
interiority, ..., ...
interpretation: scholars, 6.;
interpretation and meaning, 6;
dierences ol, 6; thoughtlul, .;
new, .8.
iPad/iPods, .p, .c, c., ..c, ..,
.c, ., .6c, .8c, .p6
Joyce, James, .cc., .c
Kant, Immanuel, ..., .p
Keats, John, .8
Kindle, ..6, .p.c, ., c., p.,
.c6, ..c, ., .6, .8c, .p6
Kleist, Leinrich von, 66
lilrary, ., .6.8, p., p, pp, .c,
.c, .c8, ..p, .c, .., ., .6,
.6., .6p, .c., .p, .cc., .c,
.c, ..68; curator, ; personal/
home, .p, .; modern, .8;
venderss, .p; ale, p.; American
college, p6, .c; research, .c.;
online, .c6; ol the mind, .., .,
.8; vorld Iigital, ..; virtual, .,
Index | 231
...; Ion Quixotes, .; music,
literacy, ., .p, ..., .6, ..c, ..c, ..,
.p., .p, .cp
Locke, John, ..c
HcLuhan, Harshall, , ., .c, ...,
.6, .c
Harx, Karl, .c
media, .; media technologies, .,
..; electronic, ..; digital, ..,
.; social, ., .6; multiple,
.; print, .; competing, c;
partnerships, ; outlets, ;
communications, ..p, ..c, .c;
dominant, ., .6, .8p, ..;
scholars, .6, .68; analogue, .6p,
.c, ., .pc; vikimedia, .p.;
changing, .p.; visual, .c; mass,
.c8, ..c, ...; news, ..c
memory, c, , 6, 8, p., .c8,
.c., ., .6, .8., .., ..8
metaphor, ., ., 8, 8c, .., ..c,
..., .8.
Holire, .p, 88
Horand, Paul, p8, .c8
narcissism, .., ..., ..6, .6
newspaper(s), , ., , 6c, .6, .,
.p, .8c, .p8, .c
novels, , ., , 6p, .c., .c,
.cp, ...8, .., .c, ., .p,
.6, .6, .8p, .8., .p, .cc.c.,
.c, .., ..; Bussian, .;
Stieg Larsson, ..c; detective, .,
.p; chivalric, .8; Conrad, .6;
in Spanish, .8; Haigret, .8;
English-Canadian, ..
Odoevsky, Fedor, .c6
Ong, valter, .., .6
opposition: letween realist and other
modes, .; to many editions, .c;
to hegemony, ..c
palimpsest, .c.
paradox/paradoxically, 66, , .cp,
..c.., .., .., .., .6, .66
Pascal, Blaise, .cc.
Paxman, Jeremy, .p8, .c
Phdre, 6, 8p, 8c, 88
Plato, , .c, .c
plays: .c, ., .6p, .6, .p; ol
Shakespeare, ; ction and plays,
66; ol Bacine, 8, .6; ol Harivaux,
p; ol Anouilh, p; ol Lugo, p; ol
Corneille, .c.; ol Chekhov, ..p
poetry, , , , 6, c, p, ., ..,
.p., .6., .6, .6, .p, .p,
.pp, .c, ..
Postman, Reil, .66, ..
Project Gutenlerg, .c6, ..., .c, .6,
Proust, Harcel, p, p, .c., .8, ..
psychology: .6, 8, 68, .8p, .p.;
neuropsychology, .p; ol loneliness,
.6; cognitive, ..6
Quixote, Ion/Cervantes, .6,
.8p, .8., .pc, .c8p, ..
Bacine, Jean, 68., 8, 8, .6
Bolerts, Adam, .c., .c
Shakespeare, villiam, , , 68, 6.,
p., pp, .cc, .c., ., .8, .c,
sharing: compulsory, ., 6, c,
.; ol truth, ; passive, ;
lrictionless, ; ..6; inlormation,
.p; physical space, .c.
Shelley, P.B., 8
232 | Index
short stories, , .6, .8p; ol
Halraux, p; ol Conrad, .6; in
Spanish, .8
social sciences, 6, .pc
solitude: and concentration, ..;
and loneliness, ., ; delilerate,
8, ., ..
story telling, , .cc
technocentric gospel, ...
technology, .., ., ., ..., ., .8,
c, p, c, c, ..p, ..c., .., .c,
., .., ., ., .8., .88,
.p., .p, .p8, .c, .., ..6, ..8,
television, 8, .c, .., ., 8c, 8, .c,
.., .c, ., .., .6, .p, .8c,
.8p, .pc
terrorism, 68
1illon, Samuel iln, ..
1olstoy, Leo, .., .., ., .8,
.pc, .p, .c, .cp, ...
translation: Baudelaire, ..6, p.,
p; Pound, p; Bousseau, .cc, .;
Chinese poetry, ..; as reading,
.8; Flaulert, .86, .c6
1witter, ., , .c; 1witter leed, .;
1witter-os, ...
Iniversal Ieclaration ol Luman
Bights, ..c
unwired reader, ..8
\an den Broek, Andries, .68, .pc
virtual reality, , c
vittgenstein, Ludwig, ...
vorld Iigital Lilrary, ..
vorld vide vel/Internet, ., ..,
., ., p, , 6, c., 6,
6, 68, 8, p., .c, ., .,
.c, .8, ., .p, .68, .c.,
.6, .p, .8ppc, .pp, .cc,
writing, .8, .., ., .8, , .., 6,
6c, 6., p6, .c., .c, ..., ...6,
..., .., .8, .p, .8p, .6,
.68, .., ., ., .p, .8c, .8.,
.86, .88p, .pc., .p, .p,
.p6, .., ..6; lorms ol, , ;
online, 6; style ol, 6; invention
ol, .c
eats, v.B., .8p, .c., .