The Future of the Reading Body

Reading in Digital Environments
  • Thomas Mc Laughlin


One of the central themes of this book is that the operations of the reading body become “second nature” to the skillful reader. The intelligent workings of the hand and eye proceed by means of motor programs that run most efficiently when they need no conscious awareness. Foucault calls these operations “the domain of the taken for granted, the mundane… routines that quietly maintain the (historically contingent) normal” (Beyond the Body Proper, 8). One of the tasks of cultural theory is to articulate the functions and powers of the routines in that domain, but in ordinary practice, as Bourdieu observes, there is no pressing need to question the programs—they work, so they need no critical attention. As Ellen Spolsky says, “what is widely agreed on literally goes without saying” (92). The physical task of reading has “gone without saying” for hundreds of years, during the long reign of the codex. Throughout the history of print, reading bodies have adjusted to changes in the size and weight of books, the forms of available light, and the physical and social spaces of reading. But, since Gutenberg, there has been no challenge to the hand or eye, no restructuring of the postures and habits of reading that can compare to the challenge of our time—the hypertextual and interactive experience of reading in digital environments. Suddenly the most “taken for granted” movements of the eye and hand have changed, adapting intelligently to the new material realities of texts.


Digital Device Silent Reading Digital Environment Digital Reading Digital Text 
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© Thomas Mc Laughlin 2015

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  • Thomas Mc Laughlin

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