Posts Tagged ‘Understanding’

Constructing A Text

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Reading a text is no different than looking at one’s college career and wondering where one’s going to find college savings and discounts in a world that seems to be framed for adults. In fact, you control the framing of the world just as you control the framing of a text.

When one reads a text, one is reading with one’s own rules for construction, as well as the rules and guidelines for construction that the text provides. A definition of the text cannot be given without consideration of the reader. A text does not exist until it has been read, and every reading is a unique interaction between the text and the participating reader[1]. Wolfgang Iser suggests that the text offers “‘schematized aspects’ through which the subject matter of the work can be produced, while the actual production takes place through an act of concretization”.[2] The text can offer several possible constructions of meaning, but these constructions do not exist until there is a reader to construct them. Iser identifies the two poles of a text as the artistic and the aesthetic; the artistic pole is the text as written by the author, and the aesthetic pole is the realization of the text by the reader.[3] Due to this plurality, a text cannot be defined by either pole; instead, it is defined by the relationship between the two poles.

By Louis Wain

When you see and understand anything in the world, it can always be interpreted as a split between these two poles. In a conversation, there exists the other participant with their own structure of beliefs, and you, who interprets and understands what they are saying. A conversation cannot be defined by either of these alone; it only exists as a relationship between these two poles, and that relationship is what should be focused on, understood and used as a basis for further activity. This parallels the split that exists in the world between thought and action.


The idea of a split seems to be a difficult thing to comprehend at first, because the world seems to be made up to wholes and unities. And while it is true that the split is a manmade construction, the split is in fact necessary towards the understanding of the whole. A human can be called the combination of thought and action, a simultaneously looping of one to the other, creating a state of becoming. Both particulars, thought and action, are necessary towards understanding the general relationship that is created out of the two. Just like how the two poles of a text, the artistic and the aesthetic, are both necessary towards the understanding of the text. And the text is simultaneously general and particular; it exists as the general book and as the particular reading. This is because language and speech are simultaneously thought and action, existing in both worlds. It is both a truth and an appearance.

Most things in life can be divided into the realms of truth and appearance. This is not to say that these are the only two realms of the world, but it can help one’s understanding to acknowledge these two realms. To recognize that someone can act differently from how they are thinking, regardless of intention, is what opened mankind up to the idea that things may not always be as they seem. But to be fair, in this instance there is an error in the rhetoric. Things will never be as they seem because things will never be anything. They are perpetually in a state of seeming, of becoming, and to become what you seem is an endless cycle.


[1] Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. 20. Print.
[2] The Act of Reading  21
[3] The Act of Reading, 21

 

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Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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Reading From The Outside

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

One of the things that college students are concerned about is money. Luckily, The Campus Clipper is absolutely phenomenal in providing college savings and college discounts. So with their help, you can stop thinking about money troubles and instead allow your thoughts to flourish.

 

If one considers all speech to be poetic, and all worlds are framed by speech, a reader’s interaction with a text is an apt metaphor for one’s attempt to function and participate in the world.

When regarded from an outside perspective, the act of reading looks like an absolutely useless and monotonous activity. A person will sit for some duration of time, stare at an object, occasionally make a flipping motion with his/her hand, turn from one thin thing to another, and then resume staring at a different side. From the outside, it looks as though there is literally nothing happening; there is no activity other than the occasional hand motion, which does not seem to accomplish much at all. And when the act of reading is finished, there does not seem to be any discernible evidence that any semblance of an activity has occurred. Even Sartre admits that the writer’s activity is useless; “it is not at all useful; it is sometimes harmful for society to become self-conscious”.[1] The writer is useless because his activity is not, by all definitions, productive for a society, and the reader is useless because his activity is not even discernable as an activity.

In reality, the exact opposite is the case. Not only is the act of reading an incredibly active process, one of the most active processes coupled with thought, but it also cannot be objectively defined. The reading of a text can only be defined with regards to the reader, as well as every potential reader. Far from being a solitary event, the act of reading is an incredibly intersubjective experience that can never be the same construction twice. A text is not an object; for a text to be an object, it must exist prior to its construction. But a text does not exist before it is constructed by a reader; it only exists in its ongoing construction, in its becoming. This is why, at least for me, whenever someone asks me what a book is about, I have an incredibly difficult time answering. I can tell you what the book is making me think about, but what the book is about depends entirely on however you read it. The black marks on the page will always be there, but they do not mean anything without a reader who forms a relationship with them and assigns meaning. The only reason these black marks mean anything to us, the only reason we call them words, is because the idea of ‘words’ has been so naturalized in society that it never occurs to us to disassociate them from our own usage. To take a step back and understand something outside our own usage of it creates a perspective that allows us to realize that more than one perspective may be valid. This is how a text gets reconstructed differently by different readers. And not only can the same text be constructed differently by different readers, but the same reader will construct a text differently every time he/she reads it. The text is not defined by the black marks or the different readers, but rather the specific relationship between the two, which encompasses a plurality of definitions, especially those contingent upon time.

Breaking away from objective/subjective and turning towards a framing of the world that relies upon relationships can not only explain the phenomenon of reading, but is an incredibly useful way when attempting to understand the world. There is no ‘you’ and ‘other’ in the world. All that exists and all that you can participate in is the relational activity that occurs between these two things. If you remove the notion of an objective world from your frame of understanding and instead focus on the relations that are happening between you and others, and participate on the basis of your understanding of those relations, a multitude of freedoms are opened up for you.

 

 


[1] Sartre, Jean-Paul What is Literature? Trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York City: Philosophical Library, 1949. 71. Print.

 

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Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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