Introduction: Reading Bodies

  • Thomas Mc Laughlin


Reading appears to be a disembodied, purely mental act. The avid reader seems lost in a textual world, cut off from the life of the body and the real world that surrounds it. This image of the reader is derided in adolescent popular culture in the figure of the nerd with his nose in the book, wearing thick glasses and unfashionable clothes, oblivious to the social and physical surround, physically inept, and asexual. However, the assumption that reading is disembodied also pervades literary and cultural theory. We routinely define reading as an act of consciousness—a matter of cognition, emotion, or spirituality—all traditionally and implicitly cast as the sheer opposite of the gross physical body. But reading is undeniably a bodily act. Eyes scan the page, hands hold the book, body postures align the entire musculoskeletal frame around the visual and manual requirements of reading, adapting to the materiality of the book and to the physical space the reading body inhabits. Somatic habits develop, integrating reading into the daily life of the body. We read as we eat, as we fall asleep, as we ride the subway, and as we lie on the beach. These bodily procedures and habits have not been factored into our understanding of the work of the reader. Until recently, literary theory has tacitly framed the act of reading within a simple body/mind dualism, ignoring the eyes and hands, the postures and habits of reading, and denying any connection between the transcendent life of the reading mind and the immanent life of the body.


Reading Experience Literary Theory Physical Task Physical Skill Reading Habit 
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© Thomas Mc Laughlin 2015

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  • Thomas Mc Laughlin

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