Response to “A Story Girl”

by on February 21, 2013

Responses Takes
Illustration by Sally ScopaIllustration by Sally Scopa

To ask how we read is to enter a heavily contested warzone. If you dare to peer through the heavy smoke thrown up by all the busted ordnances, you can make out a bunch of half-animate bodies. Few havebeencompletelykilled off, but none have lasted unharmed. They continue to trudge on, dealt fatal blows but refusing to concede.

There walks the skeleton of the early 19th-century Romantics, who imagined literature to be the ineffable given form by genius and the reader a vessel to be filled. Vernon Lee, long thought dead, has merged with a Frankenstein animated by the current scientist vogue (see James Somers’s article) to claim the reader’s mind is but the passive responder to the writer’s code. Floating beyond her is the ghost of old man StanleyFish, whose disembodied voice intones from up high on how the text is wholly the product of the reader’s mind, recreated each time anew. In the distance are menacing structuralist tanks, rusty and unmanned, but still in motion, powered by the thought of Roman Jakobsen and Tzvetan Todorov, which tells us that neither author impregnates reader, nor reader gives life to author, but that the text reads us—author and reader are at the mercy of preexisting meanings.

But rather than spray critical fire in this zombie land, Nick Bakshi engages with the questions that haunted these thinkers through fiction. And it’s a brave and complex attempt. It’s not a cold mental exercise, simply an excuse to explore a concept, but a vibrant story that’s beautifuland haunting in its own right. It’s the story of how we read, and I thought it a pretty damn accurate account.

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