READING, THE READER AND THE OTHERS
Not only Iser’s phenomenology of reading but also the perspectives of Jauss’s reception aesthetics and Ricoeur’s semantics lay down the scientific understanding of reading in relation to the character of fiction or broadly speaking creative writing. An exceptionally sober stance in that respect we find with Wolfgang Iser for whom the individual act of reading is the chief being of literature; a communicative process with two partners - text and reader - in whose unfolding the structure of the text and the structured by the relations in the text understanding of the reader are correlated. Reading is the coming into being of a literary text, the act of its transformation into a work of art. Based on Ingarden’s conclusions and Husserl’s phenomenology as regards reading, Iser elaborates the functionalist approach that creative writing is expressed not only in acts of text-making and in the peculiarities of these texts, but incorporates their use as well.
The problem is that this use can be discussed in the wider area of reception transcending reading as an individual act of understanding. On the basis of Gadamer’s hermeneutics Hans Robert Jauss develops the functionalist understanding of creative writing in a new direction not so much by elaborating on the other acts of using creative writing but by placing a new accent on the idea of reading. In the process of reading, based externally on the cultural environment and internally directed by the text, the reader understands the text through a horizon of expectations. The understanding at the same time shapes this horizon. Lead by the quotient of common knowledge, the readers form not only the community of the reading public but also fall within an ideal community.
Or, the functionalist approach to creative writing can be limited to observing the change of the author’s text in the text of an individual understanding and to seeking the literary in the relation between the two texts but it can also be directed towards observing the functioning of common horizons - both within literary texts and outside them in the medium of their reception and dissemination, and seeking the “interweaving” of creative writing into the cultural environment. With Jauss’s reception aesthetics reading and creative writing fall within the broad area of culture. But culture also involves non-fictional textuality whose understanding also comes into being through a horizon of expectations. From here stems the broad issue of texts as a whole and the more concrete issue - is it not more effective, before dealing with the specific reading of creative writing and the even more specific reading of fictional texts, to ask questions about this “understanding” communion which comes into being with every reading.
It is not by accident that the authors of renown who deal with the topic of reading in the second half of 20 century limit themselves to the reading of creative writing. This type of reading engages their attention because a “more comprehensive” communicative act is realised in the inspired reader’s understanding which follows the structure of creative writing. The subject structured in this act does not simply receive information about something but changes as regards a new attitude towards the concrete environment and world. This change makes the communication in the act of reading an activity. That is why the reading of creative writing seems more effective and can be regarded as a reading of higher rank.
In that aspect of understanding, discussing only the reading of fictional texts, but using Heidegger’s idea of time and being in the world, Paul Ricoeur raises the issue of the interaction of the individual and collective acting in the “work” of reading more openly and in a more discourse-based form than Iser and Jauss. The individual reader receives for the moment of reading other-ness, the other and the communal. Thanks to the written text, the reader receives a world, and with it also an ideal identity attributed to him/ her by the implicit author through the implicit reader.
The issue however is about the consequences of reading, the understanding of what it does - not as achieving a new identity of the reader in relation to the effective understanding the read text, but about an understanding which leads to a new identification as regards an effective adaptation towards an environment in which the adaptation is provided with a world, and the reader acquires reality. This perspective towards reading is inspired by Ricoeur but the shift is significant. This shift severs the understanding of reading from the link with creative writing not so as to relate it to the complex of all possible readings, among them the reading from the computer monitor, but in order to place reading in the broader complex of all communications of the order of activities whose result is a change in the environment of communication and of the communicating subjects. By severing reading from creative writing one understands better “the work” of both. This work is expressed in the specific communication as regards change and attaining a new quality.
If reading is an external act of privacy with a text, the issue then is who does the reader communicate with during this privacy. The reader communicates not with the text but through this text, meant for reading, with a complex virtual other with whom he/ she exchanges his/ her “selfhood”. In the process of reading the virtual other correlates in the complicated structure of the understanding subject. The path of this complication is mapped by Iser and Ricoeur. It is also the object of study of 20 century psychoanalysis, although in psychoanalysis the issue of understanding is not necessarily related to the use of anchored texts. But psychoanalysis facilitates the understanding of the activity of communicating through a text , and the fact that in the act of reading the subject gets complex not simply because of the communication or understanding imposed by the text but in order to achieve a lacking feeling of reality. We acquire reality when in a discourse, rational or emotional form (mostly in the form of a convincing sequence of symbols) we receive the impression that we together with others are referred successfully to a certain human environment which on its part is referred successfully to a whole world.
An important component of the complex other, who the real reader communicates with, is the ideal author “speaking” to him through the implicit reader. One way or another, the ideal author and the implicit reader merge in an ideal understand-er similar to everyone who is invited to use the text. This ideal understand-er is external and multiple, forming a virtual communitas with everybody who is like the reader glued together by articulate values and competencies for understanding. But the ideal understand-er correlates also as part of the subject of the real reader, becomes a higher ”self” achieved during reading. By appropriating it, the subject of the reader is provided with a dynamic vertical structure. The little “self” before reading starts a double correlation during the reading with this higher ”self” - it is at times other inside the higher self, and at times is “itself” observing from aloof its own “self”.
This makes the reader capable of finding orientation in the world and somehow reinforces him/ her. On this basis the reader acquires a sense of reality. The same applies to the author during the process of creating the text. Thanks to the “work” of the text as a mediator towards others and the world, they both receive a more effective “selfhood” - they achieve the complex image of the others as a hierarchy and an ideal community as well as the correlate of this image in their own subjects. To put it in other words, through reading-writing in privacy, by getting more complex in themselves, the readers and the writers develop a range of different “self”-s from whose correlation they build a new temporary identity needed in order to provide for themselves a more effective adaptation - to the world, to the others, and to themselves.
Reading-writing, communicating with a text, is in its essence what we do in privacy in our inner world. In the pursuit of feeling, images and words, we constantly redefine who we are and what our attitude to the others and to the world is. We do it when we are awake but also in our dreams. During this process we are engaged in our own identification, the one of the others but also the one of different things and their relation to the world. We do not segment in ourselves these identifications. Each one of them runs as if on its own but is usually related since each one is a sign for the other and vice versa. Of course, the inner consciousness text is ineffective. From there stems the necessity of returning constantly to the similar and somehow more effective procedure of mediated communication with ourselves and the others through written texts or visual goings-on.
One way or another, as regards the ongoing need of reinforcement, we are constantly engaged in an reinforcing relation with ourselves, with others, with objects and the world. Writing and reading are one of the types of such reinforcing relations. They are more effective since they are more of the nature of discourse and can be appropriated. We can reinforce ourselves also with a dream and hook ourselves to somebody’s dream or oral story but it is more effective to enter the labyrinth of the written text. This does not mean that the insufficiently discourse-like text of the “oral” inner identification does not perform the same function. It is also performed externally by the dialogic form when we stop the inner stream of consciousness in order to correct it when we hear another’s voice. The identifications to ourselves, to something, to another and to a world continue in the silent acts - individual or together with other people. They also are goings-on and alternatives of question-and-answer sequences which revolve around an intricate and multifaceted question - how far being who we are are we related to others and how, and how far being in a concrete world of things and at a certain location are we outside of it and different from it, and how far does the concrete world we live in relate well to the eventual whole world.
Entangled in such internal and external “texts” we deal symbolically and impurely with the issue which Heidegger discusses in a pure form in “Being and Time”. The external human world constructed as a labyrinth, the intricacies of verbal and visual texts, of human relations and projects, and of our inner structure of beings constantly busy with their own identification , are interacting and complementing demonstrations of human being. It would be naive to ask which one is the most important. It is obvious that the growing size of mankind, the increasing number of objects around us, the amassing of texts and the more and more complex structure of human consciousness and knowledge are developing in parallel. The engine of this growth is the need to co-ordinate more adequately the mobile and changing outer world, the relation of the individual to it and his/ her relations to the constantly increasing number of more and more different people. This co-ordination leads to the inhuman inner task set before the modern human being - to deal relentlessly with a more and more complicated and flexible novel identification.
Thus, according to the proposed methodology underpinning Iser’s phenomenology, Jauss’s reception aesthetics and Ricoeur’s aesthetics, the comprehensive understanding of reading forces upon us a common horizon related to Heidegger’s dialectics of the “understanding together-ness of being in the world”. It is clear that this horizon is only a framework to our knowledge about the real readings and that they should not be depersonalised by it or attributed only to it. But taking into account that none of them fulfils effectively the task in question and that this exactly is the reason why a reading is complemented by other readings, by writings and by other activities, and that because of this human activity cascades in new diverse forms of ongoing relations, it becomes clear that the described framework is necessary for the comprehensive understanding of reading. If the comprehensive understanding of everything is transcendence in action, then the “nature “ of reading cannot be contained only in reading itself.
© Bogdan Bogdanov