Sunday, December 12, 2010

Poulet on reading

When I started my Master's degree, one of the classes I had to take was an introduction to literary studies course. Needless to say, I complained about why I had to take that course which had nothing to do with my specialization. Now thinking about it, I'm glad that I took that class because oftentimes it is good to be exposed to different things. Anyway, in that course, one day the professor gave us the first page of Poulet's essay on reading. Being always enchanted by books, I like this essay and wanted to share two excerpts. What I like about the essay is perhaps the way it describes my personal experience with books. Now that the semester is over and Indiana winter is waiting outside my window, I will answer the call of some books that have been calling me for a while. Books will save me from my harsh reality of being pretty much imprisoned in my apartment, surrounded by bitter cold, listening to the wuthering wind that keeps filling the path to my apartment with snow as soon as I shovel. The good thing is my books will take me anywhere I want, just like a magic carpet, hopefully some place warm. 

Poulet, G. (1969). The phenomenology of reading. New and Old History 1(1), 53-68.

At the beginning of Mallarme's unfinished story, Igitur, there is the description of an empty room in the middle of which, on a table there is an open book. This seems to me the situation of every book, until someone comes and begins to read it. Books are objects. On a table, on bookshelves, in store windows, they wait for someone to come and deliver them from their materiality, from their immobility. When I see them on display, I look at them as I would at animals for sale, kept in little cages, and so obviously hoping for a buyer. For--there is no doubting it--animals do know that their fate depends on a human intervention, thanks to which they will be delivered from the shame of being treated as objects. Isn't the same true of books? Made of paper and ink they lie where they are put, until the moment someone shows interest in them. They wait. Are they aware that an act of man might suddenly transform their existence? They appear to be lit up with that hope. Read me, they seem to say. I find it hard to resist their appeal. No, books are not just objects among others. 
Take a book, and you will find it offering, opening itself. It is the openness of this book that I find so moving. A book is not shut in by its contours, is not walled up as in a fortress. It asks for nothing better than to exist outside itself, or to let you exist in it. In short, the extraordinary fact in the case of a book is the falling away of the barriers between you and it. You are inside it; it is inside you; there is no longer either outside or inside.


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