Learning to read: a detective story

There are so many reasons why I #loveTwitter, but it is unusual for me to tweet for inspiration.

 I needed a sentence to start, an opener. Thanks to the New York Public Library, @nypl I found one that seems to echo something of what this blog is about:

There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me!
 
The idea that I am developing here is one that takes as its starting point Fairclough and his notion of reading as dialogic exchange between writer, actual and imagined readers: the imaginary reader. 
 
The ‘exchange’ in the case of written texts is played out between the writing and the reading of the text, and there may therefore be considerable temporal and spatial gaps between the initiating and responding moves. Moreover, a written text and especially a mediated text (e.g. a book) will figure in a great many exchanges corresponding to its many readings. Written texts often consist in themselves of nothing but Statements, and responses to them may go on only in readers’ heads, so it may seem somewhat tenuous to insist on the concept of exchange in such cases. Nevertheless, all texts imply and are oriented to dialogue in a broad sense, even a diary I write for myself inevitably involves choices in what sort of imaginary reader (be it an imaginary self) to address, and this generalization of the concept of exchange is one way to capture this. 1
 
I want to extend to reshape this idea, the stance from which it is written to suggest the ‘imagined reader’ as not the reader the writer had in mind when drafting their text, the active audience.  Not the ‘imagined reader’ that the actual reader imagine (and does or does not identify with) when reading a text. It is the readerly self I create in the process of reading.
 
I want to think about the ‘imagined reader’ as the readerly self I create in the process of reading.
 
Hence the image of ‘Coffin’ Ed and Gravedigger ‘Jones’, two fictional detectives created by Chester Himes, one of the many black writers I have read and loved – obsessively.
 
The readerly self, the academic readerly self is on a quest to find ‘the truth’.  This is a truth that may be pluralised: ‘to find truths’; it may also by qualified – ‘to find plausible truths’ rather than find ‘the definitive truth’.  To read, published texts or data to be able to make statements about how the world is: plausibly rather than definitively.  This is of course a risky undertaking.
 
The readerly self, the academic readerly self is sceptical. The stance taken in relation to everything read, heard, suggested is one of incredulous disbelief. A critical stance that demands, show me, prove it how do you know that’s the case, but what if, who says and so on. The questioning is relentless.  Whatever ls left intact at the end of the process, is temporary until old answered questions re-emerge alongside new unanswered questions.
 
The readerly self, the academic readerly self relies on informants. The reading process is an entirely dialogic one. The plausible truths to emerge through text do not reveal themselves spontaneously – they are actively sough be and through the engagement with the writer, through places several writers alongside each other, through looking and text and the world the text refers to – which may be a world other then the one he writer was specifically referring to –my reasons for reading may not be same as the writers reading for writing, or for wanting me to reads.  None-the-less the detective self forages for truth and draws on whatever is available to assemble plausibility.
 
This is one possible version of the readerly self – there are many other possible: the diver,  the orchestral conductor, the explorer, the hair stylist. The more I read, the more and newer selves I discover. There is nothing I enjoy more than being lost in text, lost as an imaginary self in a unexplored world.
1 Norman Fairclough, Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research (London: Routledge, 2003) 109, Questia, Web, 13 Jan. 2012.
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