- To Read, Perchance to Dream
In the New York Times Book Review of December 8, 1985, selected writers were asked what they would like from Santa Claus for Christmas. Katherine Paterson made the following request:
What I ask is the ability to write a book that will evoke in my young readers the feelings that haunted me when, at 8 and 11,1 read "The Secret Garden" and "The Yearling." These feelings went beyond sorrow and delight. I often had those thoughts when I read, but these rare books did something more. They filled me with wonder; I should like to write such a book before I die.
Had critics, rather than writers, been the subjects of this inquiry, there undoubtedly would have been a counterpart to Paterson; a critic somewhere hoping for a critical method that would do interpretive justice to the kind of reading experience Paterson describes. It must have been this kind of hope that led William F. Touponce to write Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie. It is a hope that is only partially fulfilled.
For Touponce, the experience of wonder in reading is especially linked to the experience of reading science fiction and fantasy. These texts, he claims, offer readers a "special refreshment of our humanity" by inviting us to linger in the material richness of imagined worlds. Indeed, it is the material imagination—particularly the power of certain images to lead the reader to archetypal patterns on the cosmic level—that Touponce finds at the heart of the experience of wonder in reading. He claims that, "in fantasy based on material images, color overflows the boundaries of form, matter multiplies, images flower and develop in the reader's mind revealing his poetic being" (17). The problem facing the critic of this literature is one of how to develop critical approach that will capture its fullness, both of text and of response.
By drawing upon the theoretical work of the German literary theorist Wolfgang Iser (The Implied Reader) and the French philosopher and historian of science Gaston Bachelard (The Poetics of Reverie), Touponce hopes to avoid a reductive approach. From Iser he borrows a regard for the temporal experience of reading, as well as a framework for describing "the investigation of textual structures and structured acts of consciousness that define the reader's cognitive role in the text" (xxii). Interwoven with Iser's overall framework for the analysis of patterns of literary communication are various threads from the literary philosophy of Gaston Bachelard. Foremost among these is the notion of "dreaming on the text" (rêve sur l'oeuvre) described as follows by Touponce:
In oneiric criticism, one performs a dreaming on the text (rêve sur l'oeuvre). One projects images initiated by the text back into the text again with the help of the specific ambience created by reverie. One prolongs and intensifies the act of reading itself (xxi).
Touponce thus hopes to bring together cognitive and affective theories of reading. He aims less to integrate the two approaches than to use them in a complementary way, in order to achieve a more complete interpretation—an interpretation faithful to the experience of reading itself. The result is primarily a study of imagery, and the corresponding aesthetic response of reverie, in the context of an appreciation for the temporal act of reading.
Touponce selects the work of Ray Bradbury as the focus of his study because he feels that Bradbury's fantasies "foreground the oneiric level, and ask the reader to perform his own reverie by linking together images produced by the structured blanks and negations of the text, its indeterminacies" (xviii). In his in-depth analyses of Bradbury's "The Sea Shell", "Cistern", "The Golden Apples of the Sun", and Fahrenheit 451, Touponce attempts to show us how this foregrounding operates.
For example, in "The Sea Shell", Touponce shows how Bradbury aligns the "sophisticated reader" with the boy character Johnny Bishop and his reverie object, the sea shell. Consequently, claims Touponce, "we follow the naive...