What we see when we read the world

“Writers reduce when they write, and readers reduce when they read. The brain itself is built to reduce, replace, emblemize… Verisimilitude is not only a false idol, but also an unattainable goal. So we reduce. And it is not without reverence that we reduce. This is how we apprehend our world. This is what humans do.

Picturing stories is making reductions. Through reduction, we create meaning.

These reductions are the world as we see it – they are what we see when we read, and they are what we see when we read the world.

They are what reading looks like (if it looks like anything at all).”

(pages 415–416)

From Fred Mendelsund, What We See When We Read. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Searched for and borrowed on ILL via les Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

Reading mirrors the procedure by which we acquaint ourselves with the world

“When we apprehend the world (the parts of it that are legible to us), we do so one piece at a time. These single pieces of the world are our conscious perceptions. What these conscious perceptions consist of, we don’t know, though we assume that our experience of the world is an admixture of that which is already present, and that which we ourselves contribute (our selves – our memories, opinions, proclivities, and so on).

Authors are curators of experience. They filter the world’s noise, and out of that noise they make the purest signal they can – out of disorder they create narrative. They administer this narrative in the form of a book, and preside, in some ineffable way, over the reading experience. Yet no matter how pure the data set that authors provide to readers – no matter how diligently prefiltered and tightly reconstructed – readers’ brains will continue in their prescribed assignment: to analyze, screen, and sort. Our brains will treat a book as if it were any other of the world’s many unfiltered, encrypted signals. That is, the author’s book, for readers, reverts to a species of noise. We take in as much of the author’s world as we can, and mix this material with our own in the alembic of our reading minds, combining them to alchemize something unique. I would propose that this is why reading “works”: reading mirrors the procedure by which we acquaint ourselves with the world. It is not that our narratives necessarily tell us something true about the world (though they might), but rather that the practice of reading feels like, and is like, consciousness itself: imperfect; partial; hazy; co-creative.”

(pages 402–403)

From Fred Mendelsund, What We See When We Read. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Searched for and borrowed on ILL via les Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

Having a body entails a sense of this relationship

“Metonymy, like metaphor, is thought by some to be a part of our innate language faculty – and an even greater foundational aspect of a human being’s natural cognitive abilities. (Our understanding of the part-for-whole relationship is an important tool by which we understand our world and communicate that understanding to others.) As embodied creatures, we consist of corporeal forms, physiques, which are in turn composed of parts. Being born with a body entails being born with some natural abstract sense of this relationship – of synecdoche.”

(page 390)

From Fred Mendelsund, What We See When We Read. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Searched for and borrowed on ILL via les Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

Experience, spectral and mutating

“The smell of “salt and weeds”:

I am not smelling them as such. I am performing a synaesthetic transformation. From the words “smell of salt and weeds” I am calling up an idea of a summer house by the sea, where I’ve stayed. The experience does not contain any true recall of an odor. It is a flash, which leaves a slight afterimage. It is spectral and mutating. An aurora.

A nebula of illusory material.”

(page 342)

From Fred Mendelsund, What We See When We Read. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Searched for and borrowed on ILL via les Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

From the text arises music

“(Which is to say that sometimes we confuse seeing and feeling.)

As any poet will tell you, the rhythms, registers and onomatopoeic sounds of words build a synesthetic transfer in listeners and readers (silent listeners).

From the text arises music.”

(page 309)

From Fred Mendelsund, What We See When We Read. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Searched for and borrowed on ILL via les Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

Words potentiate meaning

“Words are effective not because of what they carry in them, but for their latent potential to unlock the accumulated experience of the reader. Words “contain” meanings, but, more important, words potentiate meaning…”

(page 302)

From Fred Mendelsund, What We See When We Read. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Searched for and borrowed on ILL via les Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal.

The protein of detail

“Love feeds on the protein of detail, sucks fact to the marrow; just as there’s no generality in the body, every particular speaking at once until there’s such a crying out…”

(pages 179)

Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.

Somehow unread until now; borrowed from les Bibliothèques publiques de Montrèal, Succursale Mile-End.