September 17, 2002

On Reading
It could be, then, that we are just starting to appreciate the potency that reading possesses. It is an interesting speculation: that the cultural threats to reading may be, paradoxically, revealing to us its deeper saving powers. I use the word saving intentionally here, not because I want to ascribe to reading some great function of salvation, but because I want to emphasize one last time the ideas of transformation and change of state. The movement from quotidian consciousness into the consciousness irradiated by artistic vision is analogous to the awakening to spirituality. The reader's aesthetic experience is, necessarily, lowercase, at least when set beside the truly spiritual. But it is marked by similar recognitions, including a changed relation to time, a condensation of the sense of significance, an awareness of a system or structure of meaning, and--most difficult to account for--a feeling of being enfolded by something larger, more profound.

Working through these thoughts, I happened upon an essay called "First Person Singular" by Joseph Epstein, wherein he cites Goethe as saying that "a fact of our existence is of value not insofar as it is true, but insofar as it has something to signify." To this Epstein adds concisely: "Only in art do all facts signify." He communicates in seven short words much of what I have been belaboring here: Facts signify whenever one believes that existence is intended, that there are reasons that, as Pascal wrote, reason knows nothing of.
- Sven Birkerts "Readings"...review & excerpt

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