why read?

Because I am young and coming into myself, I have become aware of a series of events in my life which have been formative to my development as a person. I am both superstitious (in attributing certain things to God or to spirits or to circumstances outside of my knowledge or control, or as a teacher once said to me, “to people who have been looking over me and supporting me throughout my life, since my early childhood”) as well as rational (in attributing certain things to “feats of will” in myself, as well as strategic moments when my parents chose to act on my behalf for my greater good, even in situations I, in the moment, considered with scorn) in looking back at the timeline (or time-web, time-potato, maybe) of my life, attempting to tease out in a Freudian way the paths I have taken and how they have affected me for good or bad. Trying to better understand the reasons for my perpetual impatience, for my displeasure with the things I possess, with my amusement with the ideas behind pretention, with my preoccupation for the analysis of social structures and my disdain for my participation in the very structures I think should be utterly abolished. I think back on my life, from the beginning of the tape when, one day when I was 4 years old, after a nap, I woke up in my parent’s bedroom to see my family gathered downstairs for a barbeque and the reel, the story, begins, and try to piece together the elements which made me who I am, the highlighted, slowed-down, heavily-remastered details of the fraying wheel which stand out, which are all that is left of the masterpiece long-shot film of my life.

What is the point of reading? Do we learn anything from reading? Is reading just a masturbatory act, a form of narcissism. Do we read for edification, for pleasure, for disbelief, and if we do, do texts even matter? In what ways do we apply the methodologies of reading to our ordinary lives, and is this a fair or just act? Is it possible to read to understand the world around us, or are we completely bound to the contexts in which we live (alarmism) or the realms we seek to create for us? (escapism)

I blame my parents for a lot of things in my life. They, of course, are not at fault for these things, but I do blame them, in some small, selfish way, for the ways I was raised and the person that I was molded to become. I blame them for not pushing me enough in school (for it was expected that I would get good grades and I did, for the most part, although I could have pushed myself harder), I blame them for not congratulating me enough on my efforts (for similar reasons; it was the expectation that I would bring home an A, and therefore there was no reward for satisfactory behavior, like waking up and being deferent), I even blame them for not instilling me good food habits (many of which I have already outgrown). Yet, above all, I blame my parents for not encouraging me to read more as a child. I read at a painfully slow pace now, and while I have gotten somewhat better at skimming, I find that skimming itself is an unfaithful and perhaps irreverent way of understanding a text, predicated more by the need to finish (and what does finishing a text even mean?) as well as the need to get its major points (its gist). In writing, reading’s Dr. Jekyll, it is important to be intentional with one’s words. I have always been told to be meaningful in each sentence, to have a clear progression from beginning to end of paragraph, to bring new ideas to the table which each sentence seems to advance, and to load each sentence, each clause with meaning and information so that the text oozes content – skimming in a way undoes this. Skimming practices focus less on the meaning and relations of words but the scouring and excision, the CTRL+F of ideas in a way which undoes the craft of writing (although it seems academic writing is often considered unaesthetic). If you offered students simply detailed outlines of all of the major ideas of Kant, Glissant and Weber, best believe that in most situations they would heavily rely on, or completely subject themselves to these boiled down, ossified versions. When the pressure is to understand content and not to enjoy it, reading becomes a chore which stands in the way of the invented end-goal of understanding.

Is writing a form of incantation, and reading the process by which enchanted knowledge is removed from its paper-prison? Does writing deposit knowledge, and does reading sublimate it?

I blame my parents for not encouraging me to read because I feel now, as a graduate student, stunted in my academic development because of both my qualms about reading and my inability to understand the content in front of me. The pace at which I scan over the words attempts to better understand the global picture which a text presents, yet the words themselves seem devoid of meaning if I have not the intelligence to grasp their significance, their interplay. Dictionaries are at times insufficient when the question is not “what does space mean?” but “How is Lefebvre using it in this book?” Reading is wrapped up in its own sociocultural context; to read for edification is to get the main ideas, to develop conversation topics, to better understand the interplay of this text with your own views of the world as an academic/student/thinker/member of society/dissident; to read for pleasure to attempt to better understand the ways that authors engage with reality and worldbuilding as a reflection or rejection of the worlds in which texts are produced and given meaning, to better understand the text as a representation and reflection of the real world as itself a joyless and unidyllic cosmos; to read for information is to subsume oneself in a world of symbols and signs to which one owes fealty to those who render these spirit-concepts into bone and marrow, to plunge into a world of fearmongering and rubbernecking and gossiping and commenting in order to better understand the quickeningly senseless world in which we live, to delude oneself further in the process of breaking free of one nested dream into another, a perpetual process of false-awakening, of leg-pinching, of totem-checking. The readerly act is not always in relation to text, either. To read a person is to analyze them, to interpret their spirit, to take into consideration all of the past actions, all of the bits of gleaned information from hearsay, from private conversations, from text messages, from body language, as an archive, as a manuscript onto which we apply our own psyche as a filter for a desired datum of information; to read memories is to look back at one particular point in time, subject to the environment and the context which produced this particular version of you as interpreter, teasing out the bits of information which seem irrelevant or directly contradict the desired datum of information which consolidates, corroborates, extrapolates a point of tension, a cause of concern, a grievance; to read emotions is to understand the meaning and circumstances for feelings while nevertheless failing to grasp the irrationality and perhaps even randomness of human emotion, the senseless of human experience, the bitter tug-of-war between our lived existences as a fact (insofar that we acknowledge them in our subjective realities) and the spirits of will, the negative faces, which we build and towards which we move, ceaselessly, stumbling about in the wilderness just beyond the Promised Land.

Is reading not a form of violence? Is it not an injection, invasion of the self into a text, an attempt to bring another person’s subjective experience into our orbits? Do we not grow weary when a text does not reveal itself quickly to us, do we not yawn when situations do not break themselves open to us? If reading is for edification, does the knowledge which is learned truly change the way we see the world, or does it further the perpetual process of disenchantment? If reading is for pleasure, does it provide tools to better undo the disillusioning world from which we seek escape? If reading is for information, does it truly inform as much as it affirms?

The key question in reading is “can we possibly understand one another?” I blame my parents for not encouraging me to read because I feel now in my young adulthood that I have a profound inability to read and understand the world. I look at people who are perhaps more well-read and they seem more self-assured, more at-ease in social space, more confident in the bodies they have been given, more anchored in the words they speak. I look at situations in my life and find that social interactions seem to be a constant string of misinterpretations and misreadings – not understanding subtleties for what they are, putting too much emphasis where it isn’t due, not being direct, being too direct, not speaking up, speaking up at the wrong time. It has seemed always that the world operated on a level of consciousness from which I had been firmly and permanently exiled, or better yet, that I have only known from the exile into which I was born. The signs, the symbols, the clandestine language of human engagement has always escaped me, and as a stupid young man with nowhere to turn but my parents for the blame, a gesture I know is quite empty, I find that my utter cluelessness, my social illiteracy, remains an issue I have yet to overcome.

To read for one’s self is meaningless. Edification, pleasure, information; to sit on knowledge and not share it, to pigeonhole one’s thoughts and critiques within one’s own mind is quite selfish, for it deprives the world of information which it needs to better create a picture of Existence as a multifaceted tug-of-war of triumph and of suffering, of misery and of joy, of beauty and of horror. To read is to engage with the world of writers and actors and doers and movers and shakers in a way whose personal violence is only undone through the productive acts of writing, of speaking, of doing. To write is to do, to read to undo. To write is to create, to read to destroy. To write is to figure oneself as a subject, as an active participant in the world, to read as the object

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