Part I – Phenomenology of Reading by Georges Poulet

22 Nov

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.

Poulet, french essayist and critic, comments on the experience of reading as his opening paragraph of his mind-bending interpreation of what it is to read. Reading is an experience, or rather, a somewhat bizarre experience as mentioned by Poulet. The I of a fiction, is whose? The author’s, or yours? In this essay, he brought forth the notion that reading is a hijack of your consciousness by the author’s. The I in every story, every biography, is the I as portrayed by the author’s. This consciousness resides in you, grows in you.

A book is not shut in by its contours, is not walled up as in a fortress. It asks nothing better than to exist outside itself, or to let you exist in it. In short, the extraordinary fact in the case of a books 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.

The experience of reading melts away boundaries, and since the inception of picking the novel up, you give away part of your consciousness to the author’s thoughts. No wonder Diderot’s declaration of “My thoughts are my whores” is such an apt description. Poulet carries on to posit what happens when you read a book, and tries to answer this by the dialectic method. Even Poulet agrees that “the phenomenon is indeed hard to explain, even to conceive, and yet, once admitted, it explains to me what might otherwise seem even more inexplicable”. Despite so, this makes his work an interesting read, and with the first part only spanning 7 pages, this 7 pages may just change your experience in reading.


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