📑 On Rereading

Bookmarked Victor Brombert: “On Rereading” (The Yale Review)

Rereading is subject to fortuitous circumstances, and remains a strictly personal affair. But the act of rereading, especially of books that have had a transformative effect, illustrates a wider common experience: the continuous shuttle, or to-­and-­fro movement, between art forms and lived life. It is a creative weaving, a process by which we are ceaselessly shaped. This to-­and-­fro motion between artifact and so-­called reality takes various forms. It can occur between a given novel and specific urban setting, or between an admired painting and a geographic region. One might see the San Frediano district of Florence through a previous encounter with Vasco Pratolini’s fiction, discover Petersburg through exposure to Gogol and Dostoyevsky, or grow fond of the Umbrian countryside through earlier views of the delicate trees in the background landscapes of Perugino’s compositions.

Victor Brombert reflects upon rereading texts during the pandemic and the strange experience of discovering a past self written in the margins. With this, he reflects upon the different forms of rereading:

voluntary rereading, the result of a willful decision to revisit a book one has admired, or a book that has left one with some unanswered questions.

subconscious rereadings, those that occur without the specific act of reading, much as the memory of a tune can haunt the mind without its actually being heard again.

quite precious experience that might be called “pre-­reading,” when certain dispositions in our character, coupled with circumstances, make us receptive in advance to an author we have not yet encountered.

Whatever the form, each of these acts of rereading changes us as readers.

Books can transform us. They can determine a mental landscape, remake our vision of things in much the way the advent of impressionism made people see both cityscape and landscape afresh.

This reminds me of J. Hillis Miller’s President’s Column in his book Theory Now and Then, in which he talks about the joy of reading and the subsequent obligation to write:

Miller argued that we have an obligation to write. He suggested that reading and teaching are completed by writing, that it is a core element to our transaction with language. As he stated:

As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.

To me, Miller’s writing refers to an action where we make meaning out of the text, where we gain a subjective mastery over what it is we are reading. This may not always be a physical act and often doesn’t even reach the page. The challenge as I see it is to follow through with these commentaries. That is why blogging is so powerful.

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