Many books, articles and academic discussions, have centered on reading: how and why it happens. Human beings are the only living creatures capable of reading, writing, and speaking. Exposure to language, both orally and in written form, plays a significant role in how we define ourselves, and each other.
In Narrative Structures and Literary History, translated by Rebecca West, the author explores the mechanisms that underlay the act of reading, and the interconnectedness between both reader and writer. In the text, the reader of a literary work (also known as the receiver) and the writer of the work (also known as the transmitter), are presented as engaged in a process that is inherently interactive.
Reading is presented as an exchange involving the transmission of information or a message.
According to the article, this transmission is more than linguistic; it involves the transfer of “states of mind, ideals, and judgments about the world.” The body of knowledge centered on reading, may be summed up as a collection of ideas focused on writer/reader competences, which, in the context that the author uses them, emphasizes the importance of the reader’s ability to accurately interpret written or transmitted messages. The reader’s role in the above exchange is, therefore, more than passive— he or she is a present figure in the construction of a text’s meaning.
The ability to interpret the message in a literary work, whatever it may be, is reliant on codes and codices—language, customs, societal conceptions of the world, and mutual and non-mutual knowledge.
But does the process of transmission that takes place during reading, differ when reading works written in the past? When common knowledge becomes less common, does the reader become passive?
Today’s mutual knowledge is greatly impacted by social media and technology, with each of us carrying our own personal catalogue of political and social ideas, associations in reference to objects, people, places, and concepts.
When an author refers to these elements in a work, whether directly or indirectly, that author is building upon our subjective knowledge of these subjects, resulting in a mental merging of sorts— the author’s sensibilities with our own.
However, mutual knowledge, as it relates to reading a Zora Neale Hurston or Faulkner novel, versus a contemporary one, differs, the language, the references, the codes and codices. etc. When reading literary works of the past, we grasp only that which resonates with our present; everything else, we simply imagine. As a text ages, so does its interactive quality.
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