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Phenomenology of Reading Georges Poulet

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1 Phenomenology of Reading Georges Poulet
Reading and consciousness Criticism and consciousness Ellen van de Corput

2 Reading and consciousness
What happens when we read a book? Books as objects: Not ordinary objects, they need human intervention that will deliver them from their materiality. Statues and vases: Seem to have an interior which is not yet revealed to us. But: closed. Books are different: Openness, we can exist in them, they can exist in us. Openness of a consciousness, we can “think what it thinks and feel what it feels.” (p.54)

3 Reading and consciousness
The book is no longer an object: a series of words, ideas and images Part of an interior world: mental entities Exterior world: vases, statues, tables… Fiction takes over, we become the prey of language. But through language mental entities become part of our consciousness

4 Reading and consciousness
Problem: I as subject am thinking the thoughts of another, but I think them as my own. Or: my consciousness behaves as though it were the consciousness of another. These thoughts need a subject to think them: this subject has also entered mine. “Reading is just that: a way of giving way not only to a host of alien words, images, ideas, but also to the very alien principle which utters them and shelters them.” (p.57)

5 Reading and consciousness
Who is the “second self” that takes over? Biographical explanation: the writer “it is the means by which an author actually preserves his ideas, his feelings, his modes of dreaming and living. It is his means of saving his identity from death.” (p.58) Biography v. Internal knowledge: the subject only exist inside the work, this consciousness fills ours.

6 Criticism and consciousness
What happens to my consciousness? Common consciousness That of the work is at the centre of the stage. Critic consciousness: astonished, existence inside his which is not his own, but he still experiences it as his own. Examine the variations of the relationship between the criticizing subject (critic) and the criticized object (the book). Methods of approaching a text.

7 Criticism and consciousness
1. Jacques Rivière: Not the fusion of two consciousnesses, but: “un uncertain movement of the mind toward an object which remains hidden.” (p.60) Consciousness tries to get to the object through the senses. He doesn’t understand the language, can only translate a fraction of the text: failure. 2. Jean-Pierre Richard Verbal mimesis: tries to identify with the work through language, undergo the same experiences. But this language can only get to objects, it can’t express the thought itself. There is no identification with the subject, but we’re really close to the work: extreme proximity.

8 Criticism and consciousness
3. Maurice Blanchot The reverse: a translucence language which tries to get to the abstraction of the images of the real world reflected by literature. Dematerialization: all that’s left is the consciousness, detached from any object. Extreme separation. 4. Starobinski Both proximity and distance: harmony His criticism is flexible and shows moments of complete openness and understanding. Finally it detaches itself and moves on from what is has illuminated, left with a view from afar and above. But: he doesn’t pay enough attention to the forms, the objectivity of a work to get to the thoughts.

9 Criticism and consciousness
5. Marcel Raymond Recognizes the “double reality:” both thoughts and forms. But: he sometimes loses himself in an undefined subjectivity or stops before an impenetrable objectivity. Only sometimes he can establish a link between the two. 6. Jean Rousset Recognizes both the structure of a work and the depth of an experience: the objective reality of a work and the organizing power. He uses the understanding of forms to get to the subject of the work, which is previous to it, like Raymond.

10 Conclusion Final aim: not only to understand the role of the subject in the work and its interrelation with objects, but to get the subject to detach itself from it and stand alone. Paintings: grasp a common essence present in all the works. Can this happen the same way with literature? During the presentation, we found this was a point for discussion. How can we really get inside the author’s mind through reading a text? For many, this caused confusion (is it really the author’s mind we enter?) and seemed almost impossible. The author invents characters, so how is it we get to know his thoughts and feelings?

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