- Rereading Rereading
A Quasi-Simultaneous Complement to Rereading
In 1993, at the same time with Rereading, Matei Călinescu published an essay—“Orality in Literacy: Some Historical Paradoxes of Rereading”—that can be taken as a way of already rereading and complementing his own book. In an enlarged form, this essay was later included in the volume Second Thoughts. A Focus on Rereading edited by David Galef (1998)1 as well as in the second edition of the Romanian translation of Rereading published in 2007.2
The thesis of the essay is “that orality and literacy are not separated by an unbridgeable gap, but that elements of orality, including the so-called ‘oral consciousness,’ continue to play a major role in the activities of writing/reading/rereading” (53). We talk with others about what we read and we often practice oral reading. Călinescu points out that Havelock’s “silent revolution” of alphabetic writing and reading was far from being silent, not only in Greco-Roman antiquity, but later on as well. People wrote under dictation or self-dictation and read aloud, when alone as well as when with others. In Augustine’s Confessions, the fact that Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, read silently was still perceived as an event worth noting.3 [End Page 81]
Reading as well as rereading (be it defined as iterated reading or as reading-cum-rereading) are presented in the essay “as part of a larger process of cultural communication, involving different forms of attention, awareness, memory, and modes of understanding text—whether oral and written” (51). Like reading, rereading can be quick or slow, depending upon the objectives pursued by the rereader. Rereading, though, allows a deeper contact with mnemonic and esthetic oral elements of a text, such as “rhythmical patterns, alliteration, assonance, repetition, antinomy and antithesis, formulary expressions, and, on the level of larger units of discourse, standard settings and thematic associations” (54). Even “[s]ubvocalic reading or silent reading with mental uttering of the words,”4 and the so-called “purely visual reading” (65) continue to have a hidden oral dimension which is represented by the spacing between words and by punctuation.
While clearly resulting from the existence of writing, the experience of the rereader presents unexpected similarities with that of a member of an oral community listening to a familiar piece (a story, a legend, an epical song etc.):
Both know how the action will develop and what the ending will be (unlike the first-time and the generically encoded single-time reader of a suspenseful detective story), but they enjoy nonetheless the unfolding of the story, episode by episode, in the expected succession. Both also enjoy a certain experience of difference—difference in the perception of apparent sameness and repetition, which reflects the subjects’ changes of mood and experience over time.(69)
And both access—Călinescu underlines—“a time that seems to move in a cycle or spiral and is thus opposed to the irresistible linear flow of the time of everyday experience” (69–70).
I wonder however whether in opposing the linear time of reading to the circular, mythical time of rereading, Călinescu refers to the remote time-before-time of the myth as such or, rather, to the cyclical time of the rituals that reenact certain myths in traditional communities. To this one could add that it is not clear if the circular time of rereading, without before and after, is that of the text reread or if this type of time characterizes the external situation of the rereader. In the first case, we read again of the birth or marriage of a character after having already learned of her/his death (see, for example, The Crab’s Nebula by Eric Chevillard). In the second case we examine what happens when starting to read again, “the most important addition, the second time around, being a sense of psychological reassurance likely to accompany a game whose sequence and outcome are known, even if the player pretends not to know them” (277). Either one or the other seem to me less adapted to [End Page 82] the meandering ways we...