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The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm

The Reader as Metaphor

By Alberto Manguel

Publication Year: 2013

As far as one can tell, human beings are the only species for which the world seems made up of stories, Alberto Manguel writes. We read the book of the world in many guises: we may be travelers, advancing through its pages like pilgrims heading toward enlightenment. We may be recluses, withdrawing through our reading into our own ivory towers. Or we may devour our books like burrowing worms, not to benefit from the wisdom they contain but merely to stuff ourselves with countless words.

With consummate grace and extraordinary breadth, the best-selling author of A History of Reading and The Library at Night considers the chain of metaphors that have described readers and their relationships to the text-that-is-the-world over a span of four millennia. In figures as familiar and diverse as the book-addled Don Quixote and the pilgrim Dante who carries us through the depths of hell up to the brilliance of heaven, as well as Prince Hamlet paralyzed by his learning, and Emma Bovary who mistakes what she has read for the life she might one day lead, Manguel charts the ways in which literary characters and their interpretations reflect both shifting attitudes toward readers and reading, and certain recurrent notions on the role of the intellectual: "We are reading creatures. We ingest words, we are made of words. . . . It is through words that we identify our reality and by means of words that we ourselves are identified."

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts


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pp. 1-3


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pp. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. 1-5

As far as we can tell, we are the only species for whom the world seems to be made of stories. Biologically developed to be conscious of our existence, we treat our perceived identities and the identity of the world around us as if they required a literate decipherment, as if everything in the universe were represented in a code that we are supposed to learn and understand. ...

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1 The Reader as Traveler: Reading as Recognition of the World

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pp. 7-50

In the left margin of a fifteenth-century French manuscript,1 a small illumination serves as incipit for the text. It shows, against a dark blue sky studded with golden stars, a woman looking upon a baby child strapped to its cradle. The scene depicted is Moses in the bulrushes. The woman is Miriam, Moses’s sister, who convinces the Pharaoh’s daughter to have the child Moses nursed by a Jewish nurse; unbeknownst to the princess, the nurse is Jochebed, Moses’s mother. ...

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2 The Reader in the Ivory Tower: Reading as Alienation from the World

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pp. 51-88

In front of a cosy fire, a curled-up dog at his feet, a man in a green dressing gown sits in his reading chair, but he isn’t reading. His book lies closed on an adjacent wooden chest. His head, wrapped in a pink scarf for warmth and comfort, leans against a white pillow. His right hand holds his robe, his left hand is tucked inside, as if to keep warm or to feel the beatings of his heart. His eyes are shut, so that he does not see (or does not choose to see) the nun approaching him with a prayer book and a rosary. ...

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3 The Bookworm: The Reader as Inventor of the World

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pp. 89-109

At a table made of huge books laid flat and borne on legs of parchment scrolls, a wizened man with large spectacles turns the leaves of a thick book with his chin. He cannot use his hands: his body is cocooned in a sheaf of printed paper, poised ...

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Conclusion: Reading to Live

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pp. 111-120

Two and a half centuries after the publication of the first part of Don Quixote, Gustave Flaubert pursued the exploration of the reader as mediator between the perception of fiction and the perception of reality. The reader as traveler, the reader in the ivory tower, the reader as devourer of books, all appear in Flaubert’s works from his very earliest writings. The reader as ...


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pp. 121-135


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pp. 137-141

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pp. 143-152

Thanks to David McKnight and the board of the University of Pennsylvania for asking me to deliver the Rosenbach Lectures, which led me to write this book. Thanks to the several librarians at the Free Library, the Rosenbach Library, the University of Pennsylvania Library, and the Jewish Center Library of Philadelphia for their hospitality and generosity during my visit. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209105
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245233

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 19 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Material Texts
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Roger Chartier, Joseph Farrell, Anthony Grafton, Leah Price, Peter Stallybrass, Michael F. Suarez, S.J. See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 859160750
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm