Alex E. Blazer Course Site Teaching Portfolio

What Is Reading?

Read not to contradict and refute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.

—Francis Bacon


Reading is the loom on which one's inner garments are woven. Shoddy reading clothes both mind and heart in shoddy garments.

—A. P. Gouthey


Said I have a queer mind and have read too much. Not true. Have read little and understood less. Then she said I would come back to faith because I had a restless mind.

—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914)


For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.

—Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)


What I'll have to do is, I'll have to read that play [Hamlet]. The trouble with me is, I always have to read that stuff by myself. If an actor acts it out, I hardly listen. I keep worrying about whether he's going to do something phony every minute.

—J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)


Man reading shd. be man intensely alive. The book shd. be a ball of light in one's hand.

—Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (1970)


I wrote this book and learned to read.

—William Faulkner, "An Introduction for The Sound and the Fury" (1972)


It taught me what I had already read, because on completing it I discovered, in a series of repercussions like summer thunder, the Flauberts and Conrads and Turgenievs which as much as ten years before I had consumed whole and without assimilating at all, as a moth or a goat might. I have read nothing since; I have not had to. And I have learned but one thing since about writing. That is, that the emotion definite and physical and yet nebulous to describe which the writing of Benjy's section of The Sound and the Fury gave me—that ecstasy, that eager and joyous faith and anticipation of surprise which the yet unmarred sheets beneath my hand held inviolate and unfailing—will not return. The unreluctance to begin, the cold satisfaction in work well and arduously done, is there and will continue to be there as long as I can do it well. But that other will not return. I shall never know it again.

—William Faulkner, "An Introduction to The Sound and the Fury" (1973)


We must learn to reread what has been thus confused for us.

—Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1974)


But it is clear that the study of one poem or novel facilitates the study of the next: one gains not only points of comparison but a sense of how to read.

—Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics (1975)


What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.


. . . reading means stripping herself of every purpose, every foregone conclusion, to be ready to catch a voice that makes itself heard when you least expect it, a voice that comes from an unknown source, from somewhere beyond the book, beyond the author, beyond the conventions of writing: from the unsaid, from what the world has not yet said of itself and does not yet have the words to say.


Reading is a discontinuous and fragmentary operation.


Every time I seek to relive the emotion of a previous reading, I experience different and unexpected impressions, and do not find again those of before.


Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings.

I do nothing but seek that book read in my childhood, but what I remember of it is too little to enable me to find it again.

—Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night, A Traveler (1979)


Reading is anguish, and this is because any text, however important, or amusing, or interesting it may be (and the more engaging it seems to be), is empty—at bottom it doesn't exist; you have to cross an abyss, and if you do not jump, you do not comprehend.

—Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster (1980/1995)


The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb. This library was perhaps born to save the books it houses, but now it lives to bury them.

—Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980)


Reading, one is suddenly aware that one has been ‘drifting,' thinking, one's eyes continuing their methodical across & down, preoccupied completely by something, anything, other than the text.

—Ron Silliman, Tjanting (1981)


The literary work is given no objective status whatever; it has no existence apart from that constituted by the inward act of reading. Neither are we dealing with a so-called intersubjective or interpersonal act, in which two subjects engage in a self-clarifying dialogue. It would be more accurate to say that the two subjectivities involved, that of the author and that of the reader, co-operate in making each other forget their distinctive identity and destroy each other as subjects. Both move beyond their respective particularity toward a common ground that contains both of them, united by the impulse that makes them turn away from their particular selves. It is by means of the act of reading that this turning away takes place; for the author, the possibility of being read transforms his language form a mere project into a work (and thus forever detaches it from him). In turn, it brings the reader back, for a moment, to what he might have been before he shaped himself into a particular self.

—Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight (1983)


. . . the hidden agendas of academic training, bureaucratizing meaning into a fetish of the signified, rob intelligent people of the ability to read.

—Ron Silliman, The New Sentence (1995)


If you come across an epiphanic quote regarding the act of reading, please send it to me at