The Reading of Books

The Reading of Books

The Reading of Books

The Reading of Books

Excerpt

There have been many essays on the art of reading, but so far as I am aware, no writer, even when accepting reading as an art, has treated the reader as an artist. There are books on the art of reading but they deal with everything but reading as an art. They always deal with the craft or technique of reading and generally with the craft or technique of reading books which the writer of the dissertation happens to like, or, even, to have written. Such books are little more than special pleadings for personal preferences. They are acts of persuasion rather than attempts at elucidation. Their object is invariably to subject the reader to the will of the writer, rather than to help him to realise himself through his reading. In the following pages I treat books as the media of an art and the reader as an artist. I show that the reading of books involves in some measure, often considerable, experiences similar to those generally associated with the writing of books. I make no claim to finality for my conclusions, and would ask the reader to look upon this work as an experimental study of literary experiences. I shall be content if I have succeeded in doing no more than blaze the beginning of an interesting and possibly useful trail.

It is risky at any time to attempt an unbiased opinion, and especially at a time when literary method is changing through the penetration of new ideas: our own period for example. Modern thought and imagination have been deflected from tradition and convention by theories like the 'survival of the fittest', 'materialistic interpretation of history', the 'will to power', the 'Marxian dialectic', and more recently the development of psycho-analysis and the exploration of 'the unconscious'. These influences can be traced throughout the arts, but, as might be expected, they are particularly obvious in literature both communicative and expressive. Criticism has had to be adjusted to meet new conditions and during the process of adjustment the backchat of the leaders of literary opinion has exhibited many of the characteristics of propaganda in wartime.

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