Friday, January 15, 2016

Is There Such A Thing As Reading Too Closely?

Is it possible to identify too much with the words and fantasies of others? Yet, how far can the writer, who should be the most voracious of readers, take the act of close reading and identifying himself with the text before it goes too far and becomes an exercise in therapy?

Unless you think within all the pages of illusion and literary feats there might be lurking the perfect passages to define you, pinpoint your struggle, and somehow soothe the deepest aching of your soul.

That's what it seems David Foster Wallace did with parts of his reading life. In an interesting article written by Mike Miley called Reading Wallace Reading we learn an important, if not murky and hard to grasp lesson about the role of fiction, and every writer should define what it is or isn't about storytelling that attracts him.

It may not be all it's cranked up to be. Fiction can be a friend or a mirror for the ego, or an excuse to distract one's self from life, but when does it become a misleading factor in our lives? The Reading Wallace article talks about a passage from Don DeLillo, beside which Wallace wrote his initials DFW.

I think this passage helps me to see why I balked earlier at the idea of calling my quest in Austin a pilgrimage. These annotations are not holy relics because they restore nothing. Rather, they are simply the fears and obsessions of a damaged soul laid naked on the page, pushed to the margins but hardly marginal. A close encounter does not provide more salvation.
No one ever talks about how identifying with something you read might not always be a good thing. Saying “that’s like me” is not always an affirmation — it can be terrifying and make you feel “more fucked-up and Unknown.” Critics and fans alike rhapsodize about identifying with David Foster Wallace’s writing as though it can only be consoling and empowering, and I used to think so too, until I got too close and discovered what may be the most important truth about literature, the true “aesthetic benefit of close reading,” though I doubt the Mellon Foundation would be all that interested in hearing about my discovery, as it is beneficial only in the most cautionary of senses: there is such a thing as reading too closely.
It's almost like Wallace was looking for truths in other people's minds that he could attach to his particular quirks and personal suffering, as to give them a voice and an understanding. And yet, maybe he was searching in the wrong places? Some of the eerie silences within cannot be described in words.

What role does reading fiction play in your life? 

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