1. How close can I come to a reading?
That is the adventurous question implied in close reading, albeit close in the line of New Criticism lies in how we read (how closely can I read) as in the French explication de texte, a method of literary criticism in which the interrelated details of a written work are examined and analyzed in an effort to understand its structure and discover meanings (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2004). The phrase to read closely denotes an act (to read) in a certain way (closely), while what is implied in the adventurous question is prior to a reading. It is a question that stalks, as one might, prey (a person or animal) with all the complication of discovery, both of and by. While reading closely might be termed a stalking as it may follow a trail of whatever artistic proof, it is in actuality more akin to negotiating the becoming of a reading, which past the point of a single word is always partial, because the reader reading has entered linearity. Or taking the word close not as an act ”to close on a text” we could read it as a state itself, a close of/to a text: its ending and, in this context, where we, nearing, begin, but are not, reading. And, then, to see how closely, nearly, we may close the text and its readability, which would in turn imply an opening to what isn't there, in the text” readers at once in the act of closing and so nearing, in its absence, appearance: or more exactly our continued reappearance. What is called for is to bring the words into our presence ”to our faces and before our eyes” and then to stop or hold there and ask, even say: How close can I come to a reading?
As a reading as a thing is spatial - albeit in its potentiality - and taking this as a geometric point, a conceptual location in space absent extent (or volume, area or length), we could as easily call such open reading, though if such takes place it is anterior to a reading, however close we can come to it, which may potentially even extent into a line, if there is the energy to go on. In this sense, one might rephrase the question: How open can I come to a reading? This reading seems to extent infinitely - and indefinitely. Phrased in this way, the question seems to address the relationship of thinking to reading, as it becomes as apt to ask, How open can I come to thinking? The question directs us not to the content of a reading, as of a thinking, but its context. It implies, also, exposure, as though in approaching reading as a state, or thing, what is there cannot be closed on, however near we may approach. It is prior to act: it is a concrete, or thing, state and, absent actuality, prior to duality, or dilemma, the Greek word for double proposition. In this case, the dilemma is the open/close between a reader and a reading. At the point of the open question there is no discourse. There is no line, namely division. Such a state might be termed a closest reading, as what is read at that juncture partakes of that notion of pointed location (whether of a reading or a thinking). The reading/thinking of that ”at that point” is indefinite and so absolutely infinite. Namely, it is absent meaning, which always leads elsewhere, which presupposes a beginning and so linearity. One is in question where there is no thing to question. In the question How open can I come to a reading? we are bound in a question: If we can find the point, that mark both indefinite and so potentially infinite, we are ourselves the answer, albeit dumb.
To put this in concrete terms, this ineffable point recalls the herms used as boundary and path markers in ancient Greece. Rather than reading through the marker to locate a line of demarcation or way ahead, an open reading would be to observe such a mark absent what it marks off. The herm is of course related to Hermes, the Greek god whose name means literally stone heap. In like kind words in their written form have the solidity of stones. Words, these aggregates of letters in ascenders and stems, strokes, loops and bars - with even voids in closed letters such as p,s and q,s - might be likened to the stratifications, grain sizes, porosities, veinings, weathering features and weights of stones. Written words (in whatever language, though perhaps including sign language) and stones both share the characteristic of being anomalous aggregates of material that cohere for a time to form ponderable (weighable) integrities - the more so we may keep or be kept from reading them. The first statements of humanity as they survive in Pleistocene caves were committed to walls of stone. Indeed, herms may be recognized as the origin of Hermeneutics, the study of a reading, and as open as we can come to how, prior to its enactment, a reading is as a presence, from the Late Latin inpraesent "face to face," which echoes the earlier in re presenti, in the site in question, from presens, being there.
Such a sense of reading, as related to its hermetic (stony) association and evoked in part etymologically among the above interrelated tropes (face-to-face, being there, and site in question) calls to a purpose: Like roadside herms and their implicit task of guiding a traveler,s steps, a reading locates. It evokes one of the common definitions of a reading as a measurement, as say the information indicated by the gauge of a measuring device. Words navigate us: they reveal where we are as, reading, we become a reading and perhaps what is read”or when we read words, words in turn read (measure) us. Each word discloses where we are, if we can open ourselves to it concretely. Calling a word a herm, as associated in part by their common purpose as guides, is a metaphor, but a metaphor produces a measurement, which is itself the means by which a way is gauged. But, like any traveler, while we cannot carry with us the stone that marks that way - or, in open reading, the point - we may bear its recognition's quality, which is in some part finding we are on a way or that others passed this way before and so it continues on. Reading promises, and a reading is a promise - even that we may meet, out ahead, those who came before. The openness we may bring to reading is that part, though not for what may close out ahead but rather remains open.
But in reading as defined as the act or activity of one that reads or of rendering aloud written or printed matter, each word is a sign or token: Or a herm in which figuratively the messenger Hermes abides. In reading a word, there is this”the word showing”and then there is that which the word shows, which is not there in the process of showing (reading). A sign or token, a word is a thing”we can close spatially on each as on a herm - and when it is read - that is, enacted - there is an absence. Namely, there is a flight, Hermes, cardinal attribute of being on the wing. We may fly - be taken - by a word to what it marks off, which is where we are. We discover ourselves absent, however, from the word or herm as it lies, which is where we are. The absence is of course an attribute of openness - a place to fill - and it is our individual absences with which we flirt when we close on words actually.
If that is so, and to read is a movement, and what we are reading though”words”are each a sign or token that in a reading movement disappears, what are we moving through, in reading? If what we discover in reading is a disappearing, what we may be asking when we are how close can I get to a reading? equals "how close can we get to a disappearing?" I does. This sense similarly pervades the notion of how open can I get to a reading (as thing) or how openly can I read (as act). Indeed, the terms open or close, as crucial as they may be in attitude”as one promises and the other grants or denies”are tied to an interior and exterior, and so are part of the same structure. That structure opens or closes to the real possibility of an extinction.
Therefore, if we are to continue fully to read - which from the Proto-Indo-European base *rei-, to reason, might include in its scope its broadest definition to think - and yet do not want to disappear, either individually into each reading or as a species that reads, we must discover a new metaphor, or measure, of to read and a reading.
One approach to a new measure is to look at a text: even this one. Following the current typographical conventions, as may be noted in the above and below word groups, textual sensibility is based on gaps: The non-print between words and horizontal lines of words as well as in the inside, outside, upper and lower margins surrounding the paragraphs these lines form. Words appear as relief, made legible by unprinted surface, which viewed openly dominates. To such we ascribe a sense of emptiness, absence, void and so on: like, apocryphally, the Inuit's dozens of words for gradients of snow, these myriad words we use for what may be the Western mindset's dominant conceptual envelop, or its point. It is that concept words pierce, though while we may imagine an Intuit might perceive snow as vital and so bearing potential for use, for the Western orientation absence evokes feelings of abandonment and loneliness and such like states against which to thunder. For example, in public toilets if given a choice we prefer to read graffiti than a wall. In fact in the absence of graffiti the wall disappears. If in the act of reading our sense of being there is subsumed to text, we might say that a text is sandwiched between two absences: An abyss calling to an abyss, where their lips touch words attach.
Additionally, as immediately above, between the paragraphs appear gaps. This is where gradients of consciousness may enter into blankness as their insertion is in part dictated, according to convention, by a desire to separate moves of accumulating impressions. They lend the appearance to words of an open to close to open then to close again only to open again weave. In the case of this text this is meant to follow what we have come to call discourse, said to mirror the system of building thought within a thing called logic - a massive prey, the wooly mammoth - to an inflection of, if not contact with, which all this is presumed to lead. Such orderliness, however, is quite divorced from our actual experience of thought, which in its vaults seems in fact as mysterious as blankness or absence or snow or any one of the names we give to the tracks we leave unplumbed by word, call or step.
As we know through experience, however, there is no such thing as void or vacuum, for as soon as it is even conceived it is closed, made a thing in thought: We have become it. In turn the actuality, or experience, of a page of text is similarly quite distinct from its appearance, as while we have these measured typographical stops, as articulated above and exhibited throughout, an act of reading is of another order. We read, as per English convention, from the left to the right, and coming to the end of the line we turn back to the left margin to pick up where the graphic line left off and so on, downward. We even may turn a page, a doubling back forward. It is a looping, recursive pattern, and absent its derogatory connotation it is insinuating, from the Latin insinuatus, the pluperfect of insinuare bring in by windings and curvings, wind one's way into, an effect which is more pronounced if margins, for example, are center justified. Our eyes follow in circularity the movement of the lines, leaping gaps at every word step, line turn and paragraph spring.
The rationale for this paginated, linear form is in part the human frame: Namely, our scale requires that text be within the scope of our reach. The technological value of text production is set according to its ability to allow a reader's attention to be given over fully to the words of which it is made. The eyes, the hands, the mind and perhaps heart must be liberated from inessential exertion or distraction. This seems to hold across literate cultures. To achieve this, reading material needs to be in a form that does not require too strenuous or complicated an effort to get at it, which means pages, screens or, as in ancient times, scrolls that may be accommodated easily in our visual and manual range. For example one can imagine a text written as a line extending out in space: The Odyssey, say, might be transcribed in ink stick along the 2.3 miles of 23rd Street in New York. But at a certain point, and perhaps throughout, readers would not be reading Odysseus, adventure as much as their own experience of eking out the text as it may be partially erased over time or of starting and stopping reading waiting for lights to change across avenues or for knots of pedestrians to dissipate. Attempting a close reading would be frustrating at best - in fact at a certain juncture perhaps risking catastrophe - while an open reading of such would be inseparable from life as the text itself has become the street's.
Returning to the text page conventional to the West, one might envision our turning experience of a reading as a corkscrewing or vortex: or, as we are absorbed in a reading, a text may be said to act as a sheath. That is while the external appearance is of a flat surface, to the extent a text is successful our inner experience of reading is a containment or envelopment - a ringing or encircling. And it is a putting on, as outside any particular societal constraints, such as assigned reading in our schools, there is volition in what we read. It is a willing subjection we assume whereby a sort of telepathy occurs between the writer and reader. Or one could even liken a text to putting on clothes, as the word text is derived from the Latin textere, to weave, from which comes textiles, for example. Moreover such a reading follows the metaphor that a text is constructed of threads of thought.
Taking that a step farther, and more in keeping with an insinuation, one might usefully see the experience of reading as a snakeskin. Of course that complicates a reading of reading, as a snake produces and wears its own skin, and once sloughed, while it may still bear a translucent snake form, it is no longer of value - at least to snakes, being unlike humans presumably devoid of nostalgia. But it does evoke the fact that we do through our experience produce our own skins, if impressions may be characterized as such, and many books are based on the sheddings of human forms. Further, as skin deep is as close in tactility as we can come to what is without us, it does call up an image of an absolute close reading.
If words may bear a primordial kinship to stones, there is some ground for the association of snakes to words. Snake life is stone like: The legends of snake-stones across various cultures attest to this. Hermes holds in his left hand the Caduceus, just as any significant stone heap may harbor snakes. Snakes are voiceless like stones or written words, and while stones are relatively fixed, snakes with their supple spines can twist the line of their bodies to form any letter. In winter snakes drop to stony sleep, and when warmth returns to the earth they sun themselves among stones that refract the sun's heat: In fact, the sun itself is a writhing igneous ball differing from the earth and from a stone only by scale and temperature. Snakes sometimes work loose their skins against stones as the earth might be said through the seasons to grow and shed itself against the sun, if vegetable life is a skin. Snakes swallow whole their prey”just as the earth someday will recompose us all. In turn the sun someday will likely swallow the earth itself.
Reading is snakelike. Along with the oscillation of the lines our eyes follow, additionally the composure of most readers is similar to a snake's in its predominant silence and stillness. Reading for most in the west is one of the few times in which in wakefulness these two conditions prevail”except perhaps when going to sleep or defecating. At the same time, as the body in a reading is quiescent, the mind of a reader registering the words of a text is active. While one would be hard pressed to say the mind in a reading writhes, nevertheless one may say that its folds of associations are in high degree active and certainly according to the difficulty a text poses...