from Introduction to Inter-readings: Text, Context, Significance (2010)

Interreadings:Text, Context, Significance,2010,
© S.Murali & Clement Lourdes, Department of English, Pondicherry University

from Introduction
Murali Sivaramakrishnan
The Act/Art of Inter-reading

Reading is a not a simple process of transaction of meaning from the text to the reader. Of course, such a simplistic view is but a naïve manner of understanding the complex linguistic, lexical, syntactic, socio-political and aesthetic circuit of the author-text-reader continuum— so much intellectual and academic discussion and analysis over a long period of time has gone into the dissection of this triangular relationship, and it is not yet over. And quite understandably so. In fact, this may even be nothing new after all when we take into account the scholarship that has accumulated over the last century in the related fields of human sciences and the social sciences and turn our heads backwards into our own past. The virtue of hindsight could proffer us newer perspectives, no doubt. And, literature, it augurs well to remember, is not the only domain where these issues are problematised, of course. The consequences of the decode-encode complex and its dimensions in terms of the cultural-historic rhetoric/fabric has been discussed and debated ad-nauseum by now in academic circles all over the world, in as varied a discipline like Anthropology or Cybernetics, Geography or Ecology Nevertheless what all this has entailed for us in brief is the self-reflexive foregrounding of the author-text-reader complex. As Jeremy Hawthorne has put it succinctly:

“Meaning, significance, fulfillment are not to be found sitting obediently and expectantly in literary works, waiting for the pages to be opened so that they can troop out into the reader’s head. What we get from our readings we get as a result of a mental struggle which is informed and directed by our theories and ideas– whether or not we are conscious of these.” [Jeremy Hawthorne Cunning passages: New Historicism, Cultural Materialism and Marxism in the Contemporary Literary Debate. London:Arnold, 1996.]
The point well worth reiterating is that the mental struggle we engage in when we encounter texts could be conscious or unconscious—no reading thus could be free from theorizing on its own, every reading is an informed reading! In short, the common reader is most uncommon! Let us now take a closer look at the trigonometry of this relationship:

In brief, one could say that the movement of the arc of literary theorising has been historically decided by the instress of one of the three points of the literary triangle: the author, the text and the reader. Those theories in the past that accorded prime importance to the author like the Romantic or the Phenomenological theories could be grouped together on one end as against those formulations of the New Critics or the Formalists who argued for the autotelic nature of the text removed from all contexts. Post Structuralism and its aftermath challenges the very orthodox nature of these relationships and unties the very lynchpin of textuality and the fabric of reading. While socio-politically self-reflexive theories like Feminism(s) and postcolonialism read against the grain of that fabric situating themselves not outside this trigonometric relationship but firmly securing themselves within the eddy of the meaning making process, whether it be the inquiry into the ontology of the text/meaning .
Theorising in one form or other has gone on in our universities for several decades by now and we have come to recognize the act of theory as moving toward new and newer positions within this paradigm and evolving Strategies of Reading. In all, the idea is not to be bogged down to a sort of reading and interpreting of individual texts but untying the very process of meaning– formation and the dynamis of the trigonometry.
In all, the range of literary theories from Formalism through New Criticism and Structuralism to Deconstruction and their critical practices has been in more than one sense instrumental in creating a meta-language of literary production, meaning and receptivity.
And the academic institutionalisation of literature and literary studies – focus on how literature is –Created, Constructed, and Conditioned. Thus theory did usher in a paradigm shift. And the reading process as one discovers was never simplistic.
Now, if the academic institutionalization of literature and literary studies could be said to have brought about a sort of Copernican revolution—a paradigm shift—in the focus of how literature is created, how it makes meaning, or even how such an awareness is itself constructed and conditioned, one could say that the intense history of theoretical enterprise itself has brought about even an even profounder paradigm shift in the manner in which such theories themselves have been interrogated and applied in various cultural contexts. For instance, Postcolonial theory is necessarily a historical recognition of the status and relevance of theory, and at the same time it foregrounds a resistance and challenge to the inordinate theorizing of literature in non-European cultural contexts
Well, whatever its demerits might be, the emergence of theory in our academia has brought forth newer and newer perceptions for discovering cultural locations. The trigonometry of reading has evolved from the almost two dimensional Euclidian plane geometry into the pluralistic trajectory of a post-Einsteinian world of multiverse(s). The dynamic of this movement cannot be underestimated: it entails a new world of interpretative possibilities. The reader is as much ingrained into the text as the text is de-centred in the process.
This is the point where I propose to implant the theory of inter-reading that this book aptly bears out. Quite distinct from the deconstructive entertainment that the play of text-author-reader poses, this process would re-organise and recognize value and signification. Inter-Reading does not play down intertextuality neither does it inter/hinder the reader/writer. It allows for a slow percolation or osmosis of the trio I mentioned at first into one another. The writer does not cease to be, neither does the text, when the reader enters the play ground. The text in the sense of being a tissue, a woven thing— woven of former texts—is by virtue of being itself, a process of engagements, of con/texts. And the inter part of the theory that the reader ushers in does not inter the text, in the sense of inter – bury or put into the ground, neither does it hide the reader’s act of playing. The text proffers the vast but structurally limited playground where in the deconstructive play takes place. For as long as the reader can, the play goes on and it could also end in a tie! Meaning and interpretation are here not mere strategies but palpable sensations that bear out the testimony of delight—the ananda or beatification of being. And the implied value in literary texts do not go unrecognized. As pointed out earlier, caste, race, gender and history could be seen as conceptual tools in engaging with the textual territory. We recognize the category of nature without the text as also another criteria for this engagement. I have discussed this process at length in another context. Suffice it to say that the idea of the text does prefigure the work of human mind(s) and the process of meaning production hastens in the outside/inside continuum. The text opens itself before it encloses the fabric of its own destiny. Ancient Indian Sanskrit linguists have spoken about mahasatta—the great essence. This is in part what each individual reading would participate in. To stretch this anlogy further would be to essentialise, to narrow it down would be but to fragmentalise. Either way Interreading (without the hyphen) would lead us to mediate between the text and the author, to allow for the play to happen, and also to retain our integral beings. After all it is the human being that creates cultures and counter-cultures!

….Read More in Inter-readings: Text, Context, Significance (2010)

Interreadings:Text, Context, Significance,2010,
© S.Murali & Clement Lourdes, Department of English, Pondicherry University

Published by the Pondicherry University Pondicherry 605014, India
First edition, April 2010

No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission from the editors. The views expressed in various essays are those of their authors alone and the editors are in no way responsible for those.