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Reviewed by:
Matei Calinescu. Rereading. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993. xvi + 327 pp. $30.00.

During the past twenty-five years, reader-response theory and the aesthetics of reception have taught us a great deal about reading, but as Calinescu notes, they have not had much to say about rereading. The first is usually associated with a linear first reading (spurred by interest in knowing what happens next), and rereading with reflection on formal and thematic architectonics. But the two cannot be neatly separated: if we know other works by the writer or relevant intertexts, our first reading is already a double one. Exploration of this topic leads to consideration of the history of rereading, as it has evolved since Quintilian wrote that "we must return to what we have read and reconsider it with care."

The first four chapters provide a survey of these issues and the ways they have been addressed by Ingarden, Iser, Jauss, and Barthes. Part Two of the book begins with an account of how, with the invention of printing and the spread of literacy, rereading (of the Bible) became the norm: "Luther made necessary what Gutenberg had made possible." But at the end of the eighteenth century, "a new kind of extensive reading became increasingly widespread," and in our own time, most of what is read is not reread. The act of reading involves a host of variables—the age and sex of the reader, the circumstances and purpose of the activity, the psychological states and kinds of attention involved—that make it difficult to develop a "poetics of reading" (the subject of the eighth chapter).

Calinescu's main concern is rereading when undertaken for pleasure—which might serve as a heuristic description of what we do when engaged with "literature." He explores the creation and consumption of fictional texts as forms of play, in the multiple senses the word has acquired since Schiller. Readers absorb the conventions and "facts" that a text posits to establish its autonomy as a fictional world. Writers like Borges and Nabokov seem deliberately to challenge us in games of concealment and revelation, evoking other fictional worlds in their intertextual play. Opposed to the selfconscious rereading they elicit is the symbolic play found in children's games and what I call "rapt reading"—total absorption in, and identification with, a world of make-believe. These poles of playful and absorbed reading have non-literary analogues in social, psychological, and even zoological behavior, as Erving Goffman, Freud, Piaget, Bateson, and others have shown. [End Page 455]

The fourth part of the book treats the ways that secrecy shapes writing and reading. Texts lead us on by exciting our curiosity, disclosing some things to all readers, yet sometimes seeming to hold revelations in reserve for the writer's fans, initiates of particular sects, or those able to unravel hidden messages and thus number themselves among the elect. The distinction between insiders and outsiders is crucial here, as is that between intentional and unintentional self- revelation. Discoveries readers make may be self-mystifications, as when an over-zealous hermeneutic of suspicion produces a projection of paranoia, or group-think. Here, as elsewhere in the book, Calinescu calls attention to relevant examples from non-literary domains (Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus ; the writings of Leo Strauss). Sections treating texts by Borges, Nabokov, Robbe-Grillet, and Henry James provide revealing applications of the argument.

On my own shelves, Rereading will be flanked by books on reader response and reception theory on one side, and, on the other, books such as Peter Brooks's Reading for the Plot , Kermode's Genesis of Secrecy , Walton's Mimesis as Make-Believe, and Pavel's Fictional Worlds. In its broadest implications, it is an anthropology (or even zoology) of fiction and a phenomenology of reading; at its narrowest, it proposes a pragmatic aesthetics that shows how domains of everyday life are selectively superimposed to produce the realm traditionally called literary.

Wallace Martin
University of Toledo


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pp. 455-456
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