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SOCIETY AND POLITICS
READING AND ITS FUNCTIONING
Bogdan Bogdanov

The cultural act of reading became the object of academic discussion in the second half of the ХХ century initially within practical and later theoretical sociology in Europe. The conclusions are that although reading was typical for all past high cultures, the practice of reading acquired representativity in contemporary Europe. The extensive accessibility of the book since the end of the ХVІІІ century and respectively of the act of its individual use by a large number of readers make reading one of the principal manifestations of indirect communication, representative of the European cultural space. Connected to the mediation of the book, reading falls into another relation – with the literary work. Hence the consequence that apart from sociology reading is also studied by literary theory.

After 1970, in the era of fading structuralism which had focused on the static character of literary texts, literary theory turned to the dynamic aspect, to the secondary text as a result of the primary text, created by an author. Literary scholars embraced this approach inspired by Husserl’s phenomenology. Based on Husserl’s understanding of time they developed the ideas of the principal incompleteness of literary texts and their completion in subsequent acts of use. Reading stands out as essential among them.    

No contemporary literary theorist has delved with such persistence in the phenomenon of reading as Wolfgang Iser. His 1976 book “The Act of Reading”, marked a new epoch on the subject. Insofar as it is possible to be articulated at all, Iser’s thesis  can be summarized as follows – a communicative process with two partners – text and reader, in whose course the structure of the text is correlated to the understanding of the reader structured by the relations in the text; individual reading is the principal form of  literature in action. Fiction has three interactive sides – the creation of literary texts, their characteristics and their use in the process of reading.

The problem is that this act of use can be regarded more broadly as reception beyond reading as an individual act of understanding. On the basis of Gadamer’s hermeneutics, Hans Robert Jauss develops the thesis that in the course of reading and externally leaning on the cultural environment and guided by the literary text, the reader comprehends by means of a horizon of expectations. The relation is dialectical.  The horizon is a means of understanding, but the understanding on its part constructs the horizon. Reading is an individual act, but the reader becomes competent owing to collective expectations. Readers are not only individual entities but also a collective entity, a type of community. 

Iser’s phenomenology and Jauss’ hermeneutics represent two differing perceptions of literature. According to the former, the author’s text is transformed into the secondary text of understanding, realized in the course of individual reading. The latter presupposes the presence of common horizons for all readers and thus leans on the implicit collective ingredient of individually produced literature. This leads to the conclusion that the individual-collective functioning of literature is not easily distinguished from the individual-collective functioning of culture.

Hence the question arises whether it is not more effective before we consider the special reading of literature and the even more special reading of fictional texts, to deal with the character of “understanding" communication, which materializes in each instance of reading in the broader area of culture. It is hardly a coincidence, however, that writers who deal with the theme of reading in the second half of the ХХ century remain within the area of reading literary texts. It is attractive since the reader’s understanding of literary texts provides a "more complete" act of communication. Structured dynamically as a manifestation of change and a relation of a specific concrete world to the entire world, these texts not only supply information. As a consequence of their use readers reach a new attitude in relation to the world. It is precisely this new attitude, produced in the course of reading that makes communication through literary texts more active and more effective than communication through other texts.   

On these grounds, in his book “Time and Narrative”, Paul Ricœur combines Iser’s phenomenological ideas with Jauss’s hermeneutical beliefs. Embracing Heidegger’s idea of time and being, he considers more discursively the interaction of the individual and the collective in the process of reading. At the moment of reading, the individual reader receives the foreign, the other, and the collective. Owing to the written text he acquires a world which was missing until the act of reading. It is Ricœur who holds the view that in its functioning reading may be said to be akin to that of sleeping. This functioning is a dialectic of references, rationalizations and materialized communication. Reading separates, but also connects. It separates from activities, but is also a preparation for action, because in the course of reading, the imaginary world of the text is connected to the effective world of the reader.

I have long embraced this perfect theory. At the same time I have tried to intensify the role of the reader and his relation to the missing others. My main addition is that while the ideal act of reading produces a new attitude to the world it places the reader in a situation of “rearrangement”.

In more detailed terms, my belief is that the act of reading, regarded as an ideal act, achieves four things. First and foremost, the reader enters the virtual community of people similar to him. Not only the community of the readers of the same text, but also other communities, held together by common beliefs and values. The reader works towards codes and paradigms of understanding. Becoming part of the virtual community further leads him to a new attitude towards a certain concrete world. He achieves this attitude since owing to the text this concrete world acquires the missing completion and becomes a world within the world. The third result from the act of ideal reading is a consequence of the effective correlation of a concrete world to the entire world in the text being read – the reader acquires a feeling of reality, which was missing until the moment of reading. The fourth result is the rearrangement of the components of the reader’s identity. The inclusion in a virtual community, the new attitude to the world and the feeling of reality naturally lead to a more effective identity in the reader. Or the function of reading is expressed in a special communication with a view to achieving a new quality in the readers.

In this connection the question arises - since reading is an act of communication, who does the reader communicate with? He does not communicate with the text, but through the text with a virtual other with whom he exchanges “his own self”. In the course of reading, this other correlates within the complex structure of the understanding subject. The process of this complex structure, pointed out by Iser and Ricœur, is also of interest to the psychoanalysis of the ХХ century where understanding is connected to interpreting the oral texts of a personal story. Which helps to grasp the active part of indirect communication through text, the fact that in the act of reading the subject becomes complicated not simply because of the understanding, imposed by the text, but also to obtain a new identity and the missing until the moment of reading feeling of reality. This happens when in a discursive rational or emotional form, mostly in the form of a convincing following of symbols we feel that together with others we relate well to a certain human ambient, which on its part relates successfully to the entire world.

An important component of the complex other, with whom the real reader interacts, is the ideal author, "speaking" through the implicit reader. One way or the other, the ideal author and the implicit reader merge into an ideal understanding entity like everybody who is encouraged to use the text. This ideal understanding entity is also outside the reader, easily multiplied to the virtual community of readers, bonded by clear values and comprehension competencies. But the ideal understanding entity correlates also as part of the real reader, and in the process of reading acquires a higher "I". By acquiring it, the reader obtains a dynamic vertical structure. The smaller "I" before the act of reading starts to relate twice during the act of reading to that higher "I" - it is at times something else inside it, at times “itself”, which looks at its own "аз" from above.

 On this basis the reader gets a feeling of reality and when it intensifies, at least for a certain time the reader finds his way better in the concrete world. The same happens to the author in the course of the production of the text. By virtue of the text mediating to the others and the world, both realize their selves more effectively – 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 self. Or put in another way, through reading and writing in solitude, becoming complex in themselves, the writers and the readers develop a set of different selves, from whose correlation they construct their new temporary identity necessary to endure an effective attitude – to the world, to the others and to themselves.   

 Reading and writing, being into contact with a text is basically what we do in the privacy of our inner world. In following feelings, images and words we define what we are and what our attitude towards others and the world is. We do his when we are awake, but also in our dreams. We are concerned with our own identification, that of others, but also of different things and their relation to the world. We do not segment them. Apparently they all seem to flow independent of one another. But they are arranged in layers and each one is a sign for another in an unpredictable reversibility. This structure of the “text” of the inner consciousness is not sufficiently effective. Hence the necessity to constantly turn to the similar, seemingly more effective procedure of indirect communication with oneself and others through written texts or visual contacts. Perpetually needing intensification, we are incessantly engaged in a series of connections – with ourselves, with the others, with objects and the world.

Writing and reading are one type of connecting. They are more effective because the written text is discursive and can be appropriated. We can intensify with a dream or by getting hold of someone’s oral story, but it is more effective to enter the labyrinth of the written text. Which does not imply that the insufficiently discursive text of the "oral" inner indentification does not do the same. It is also done by the dialogic outside, when we stop the inner flow of consciousness to correct it when we hear someone else’s voice. The identifications of oneself, of an object, of the other, of the world happen also in silent activities – individually or together with other people. They are also flows and variants of questions and answers, woven into the net of complex asking, insofar as being who we are, we are connected to others and the way we are connected, and as far as being in a concrete world of objects and at a certain place we are outside of it and different from it and as far as the concrete world we live in is well related to the entire world.

Entangled in such inner and outer "texts" we are clumsily dealing with what Heidegger in “Being and Time” deals with in a more refined way. The outer human world, constructed as a maze, the intricacies of oral and visual texts, of human relations and projects, our inner state of constantly engaged with our identification are all interactive manifestations of human existence. It would be naïve to ask which is the most important of them. The multiplying humankind, the increasing objects, the amassing of texts and the complicating of the human mind and knowledge are developing simultaneously. The engine of this increase is the necessity to coordinate more adequately the mobile and changing outer environment, the relation of the individual towards it and to the constantly growing number of more and more different other people. This coordination leads to a strenuous inner task for the contemporary man – to constantly engage in an ever more complex and flexible new and new identification.

Therefore, in compliance with the suggested methodology, based on Iser’s phenomenology, Jauss’s receptive esthetics and Ricœur’s semantics, the felicitous understanding of reading calls to rely on the excessively general horizon of Heidegger’s "the understanding collectivity of existence". This horizon is only a framework for the more concrete conception of the actual acts of reading. They encompass much more. But when we keep in mind that one actual act of reading cannot effectually do the work, and that is why some acts of reading are complemented by others, by writing and other activities and that human activity unfolds in varying new forms of connecting, it becomes clear that the described framework is necessary for the adequate understanding of reading. If the adequate understanding of everything is transcendence in action, then the “nature” of reading cannot be found entirely in reading itself. 

My text is based on the premise that the reading of literary texts is representative of the whole class of possible readings, because it effectuates a “more complete” communication. Complete means the effectuation of a change. The literary text being read, and the secondary text a consequence of the reading are processes that achieve the change. The questions that this thesis raises are numerous. Above all we have to ask, what does change mean? I have made more precise the idea of change with a series of synonyms, among them the more lucid terms “new attitude” and transformation. Nevertheless, it remains insufficiently clarified and attitudinally marked. Besides other merging, above all between the gradual small change and the abrupt big change, my argumentation does not segment the following three changes – in the text, in the secondary text of the reading and in the reader himself. They interfere and each change is a condition for the other on the plane of reading, regarded as something ideal. The real reading of a text, however, entailing a change in the process, does not necessarily lead to structuring of changes in the secondary text of reading and even less so in the tertiary “text” of the mind-set of the reader. There is no guarantee that as a consequence of reading he will reorder himself and the concrete world he lives in.

My text certainly asserts that acts of actual reading are imperfect and owing to that they are supplemented by other time processes in a procedure of constant search of the perfect communication with sufficient change. But this argument entails problems. It maintains that the most essential aspect of the communicative act of reading is not present. It is present to a certain extent only in the process of reading literary texts.  That is the reason why I have excluded from scrutiny other forms of reading and especially that of reading from a computer monitor and have said that in order to understand the nature of reading we have to place it into the broader class of all indirect types of communication, among them communication with oneself in the course of the internal flow of our own thoughts. Or, it turns out, that reading of literary texts, which represents all other types of reading, is closer to something that is not reading. 

It is not the argument itself that is fallacious – something of the “nature” of reading can be understood from the more general than from the more concrete class in which it is part of. But this is only the beginning of the possible understanding of the act of reading. The next stage is the complication which occurs from the intersection of the common class of all communication with oneself where change is produced, and the specific class of all forms of reading. This necessary complication is absent in my text. I have not undertaken it perhaps because of parti pris against the reading of non-literary texts and reading on a computer screen. I’d rather my understanding remained in the напрегнатата abstract form of the opposition, than take pleasure from the concrete more complicated meaning which arise from the intersection of two classes. 

This, of course, is a problem not only of my говорене, but also of every говорене – it is hard to speak of differences without turning them into absolute differences. The task in this case is how to represent the difference between reading of literary texts and reading on the Internet, without developing the extremes of binary typology.  

When I pass from one book to another, from one person to another, from one dream to another, I come into contact with sequences, which shape transitions from a concrete world to the entire world. In this process of transition I am faced with different paradigms of the world. When I “leaf through” Internet pages I am threatened by an influx of instances of concreteness, balanced as if by one and the same paradigm. I am not communicating. Because communication is facing not only different addressees and different concrete parameters, but also different conceptions of the world. I communicate when I am in a situation of change of paradigm of the understanding of the world. When reading, especially a literary text, I am involved in a sequence for effectuating change. But I need different types of change. Hence the constant need for new sequences. That is why I look for a new text to read when I cannot produce a new sequence in myself. Life is swarming with sequences, structures of flowing time, ways of changing the world and of my inner self. I sit and listen to a friend overwhelm me with nonsense. What is valuable in this stream is the non-sequence, the accidental connection of different paradigms. I enter this stream, because I am tired of following my own internal sequence.  

The extreme assertions in the preceding two paragraphs serve an ideological understanding. That is why it has been developed as an opposition to a more perfect and another imperfect reading. Hence the corollary that that I am not concerned with a possible similarity, which would bring them closer and would make more complicated the notion about them. This would blur the difference between them. 

The reading of a literary text and leafing through pages on the Internet are really based on a different conception of the world. The literary texts structures hierarchical relations – a small world is subordinate to a big world. This world paradigm, produced by the hidden heroic figure of the author, encourages to participate. I, the reader, become part of the community of others like me; I turn into a community being. Owing to the act of reading I also unfold in myself the vertical of the ideal “I”. In my text about the functioning of reading this has been evaluated in an abstract positive manner. But this situation can be interpreted in a more complex way. There is something negative in it. The reading of a literary text excludes my activeness in the creating of a whole world. I can accept what is already created and rearrange it. But my initiative is restricted.  My soul is subjugated to the heroic figure of the author who assembles us in the large community of everyone like me, thirsty for a world made up of hierarchies. I can do something else, I can become like the author, to create a well-structured text, a long sequence, organized by a paradigm for a complete world. In such a case I will become a hero myself who will encourage other, incapable of such an effort, to follow him. But one way or the other I will be moving within a hierarchical world. 

Exchanging texts on the Internet does not presuppose this chosenness, the emotional situation of togetherness, nor the vertical of the whole world. The world is a horizontal space, swarming of addresses, of texts, unfinished and open, unorganized by a complete world conception. The distance between author and reader, between literary and non-literary text, is zero. The struggle is for the world to be concrete. That is why it produces sequences, used by real individuals, who do not fall into heroic lapses of taking the responsibility for the framework of common worlds, hidden in one or concreteness. Vertical perfection is not encouraged, nor the erection of a super ideal. The obvious advantage of the Internet is the possibility of a swift transition from text to text, in the visible idea that the world is a network of real things. It is not fully constructed and I am encouraged to contribute. The common world is not presented as imperatively as it is in a well structured literary or conference text, such as the one I am discussing. The power of these texts is in the mixing. The power of the network of texts on the Internet lies in the inconsistency and the tendency to be different and similar in a non-prescriptive way.

Here I notice the following manipulation in my text. The specific topic in it is densely mixed with the paradigms from which I look for arguments. I am discussing the functioning of reading, but I am also concerned with certain paradigms. I do this because their separate discussion is impossible. If I explicitly ask myself about one of them, another one immediately comes up, which becomes its signifier. Thinking about something means to come across a respective означител, where the problem of discussion has already been solved. 

I discern the traces of the paradigms in my texts. I strive to name the paradigms in my text about the functioning of reading. I identify two of them - 1. the basic typical respect for the written text and the book, from which I draw knowledge and experience in order to be cleverer and more valuable, and 2. a complex anthropology, typical of my thinking and reaction complex notion of the man in the world. Therefore, the qualities of my text depend on my information on the concrete question about the reading, on the connection with authoritative work on the subject, but also on what kind of anthropology guides my arguments.  

Such an inherent notion of man in the world is incomplete. It is flexible and complex also because it connects the writer or the speaker on a given subject with other people in a common world. The topic of reading is a possible anthropology, sufficiently delineated, but also incomplete, blurred like life itself, allowing for contradictory assertions in the name of a common togetherness.    

It is precisely where the main imperfection of my text lies. Besides being inseparable form the topic, the anthropology which organizes it, is too holistic. If I compare it to what organizes the texts by Wolfgang Iser, there is a very important difference. Iser’s argumentation flows attentively, marked by respect to the concrete people and to one of the strong principles of contemporary European culture – its atomism. Change is possible only individually as a movement of the individual towards inner perfection. The human environment can also be subject to perfection, but there is no room for considering the movement between the living man towards it or towards other people. The subjects do not exist in hierarchy which leads to the hero, the angel and God. 
When I listen to my text from the point of view of someone else, I discern the sharp tone of another concern. The individual people and their viewpoints are present, but they converge in different types of communities – both commune-like and hierarchically structured, represented by highly real or ideal subjects. The inner concern of my anthropology is for the individual not to remain without a human community and an objective world. This pathos does not rely only on the others as different communities. The individual human being also transcends towards the human environment, understood on several levels as an object and ideal network values and ideas about a world.  

I have embraced Heidegger’s thesis, developed more discursively by Ricœur that thanks to language the human being has a world, but with one addition, inspired simultaneously by European phenomenology and American pragmatism. I hold the view that it is not possible to discuss correctly anything related to man, if we do not base the discussion on the understanding that he is “insufficient”, in this sense insufficiently defined being, which is constantly amplified, supplemented and defined. Due to the variety of specific human needs to supplement, define, stop the mobility, the human environment is a special amplifier labyrinth, a complex structure of real and ideal environments. In every single moment we are supplemented, defined, stopped through the changing environment, in which we participate and coordinate, by engendering correlates in ourselves. The creation of these environments and their correlation is our main problem. It blends with the other, which seems to be of a more direct concern to us – the making of the self. To relate well, to be adaptive to a certain environment, I have to constantly change.

I must stop here and not allow the anthropology professed by me to acquire a more completed shape and thus lose completely its communicativeness. Its function is no to announce a universal truth. Such big truths are always something potential, dependent on the specific topic and a certain audience. The big paradigm of an anthropology should never be uncovered. It is a means for signifying. In a text such as this one about the functining of reading it is the continuous side in the discourse of academic ratiocination. Hence the ideal of the balance between the two. This ideal is hard to achieve. More often than not, we come across discursive academic writing, sewn together by poor anthropology. In my case, the misbalance is in reverse proportion. The rich anthropology suffocates the development of the academic presentation of the topic. This lack of balance is not determined by the topic, but by a message independent from it. This is how I underscore the importance of anthropology for the felicitous elaboration of a topic in the humanities, and perhaps of all academic topics. 

The issue is in the dose and the balance. They are not easily achieved. But lack cannot be compensated with surplus. Similar anthropologies should not be openly professed not only because in this way the communicativeness of a presentation is diminished. It is proper for them to remain incomplete because of yet another reason – they are a complex sign for something which is hard to be articulated. Just as in this case the anthropology that organizes my text is not only a conception of certain objectivity. It has to confirm before the numerous virtual audiences that I am who I am. This “am” encompasses many things and events. Among them is the main impulse for me to change, to become something else, more perfect, to hide something of mine – from the high society or from my deceased father, which is basically the same thing. The education systems I have gone through are also included – the classical, but also Marxist, as well as the youthful fascination by Hegelian dialectics. Also encompassed is life experience in defending against a space which is not all that civilized, simulating the sublimation of the lack of civilization with theoretical radicalism. 

The general and the universal are potentialities, which serve to signify. That is why it is best to talk about them when worried about a specific topic, they open and shift to an application. In this sense my text about the functining of reading will be better criticized if I tackle another text or take up something that is far from reading.


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FORUM TOPICS
 AN ATTEMPT ON THE IDEA OF THE “SELF” - OR A REMARK ON DERRIDA’S TEXTS
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