The Reading Eye

Hexis and Hermeneutics
  • Thomas Mc Laughlin


Most accounts of the reading process describe the relationship between the reader and the text in mentalist terms—the mind of the reader encounters the meaning of the text. These accounts efface the physical book and the body of the reader, or treat them as mere instruments of the mind of the author and the reader. Even a phenomenologist like George Poulet asserts the pure “interiority” of the reader’s experience, an interiority that entails “the disappearance of the object” of the book. Poulet explains that the physical book “is still there, and at the same time it is there no longer, it is nowhere. That object wholly object, that thing made of paper, as there are things made of metal or porcelain, that object is no more, or at least it is as if it no longer existed, as long as I read the book. For the book is no longer a material reality.” Poulet’s “as if” suggests that we take this description as figurative—he backs away from asserting the literal disappearance of the book in favor of an account of how the experience of reading feels to the reader—but then he repeats the claim: “in order to exist as mental objects they must relinquish their existence as real objects.” (“Criticism and the Experience of Interiority,” 42–43) But, when we remember the undeniable fact that reading is a physical act, Poulet’s claim seems nonsensical. In the act of reading, there is no question—the book is not “nowhere,” it is right in front of my eyes. And it can only exist as a mental object if it exists as a material object, accessible to highly disciplined visual operations.


Landing Zone Meaningful Unit Reading Mind Graphic Code Arbitrary Rule 
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© Thomas Mc Laughlin 2015

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  • Thomas Mc Laughlin

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