The imagination. The fabric upon which the novelist and the poet create not only their livelihoods and masterpieces but also our research subjects. But, how often do we, as readers and scholars, pause to examine this ‘lifesblood’ of our careers? Nineteenth-century American philosopher William James wrote about the amazing speed with which the brain processes written text. Peter Mendelsund’s “What We See When We Read?” explores a similar, yet vastly different ability of our grey matter by asking the question: How do what we label our imaginations create visual representations of this same text?
I know that I’m not the only reader who finds him or herself indulging in the more-than-frustrating bad habit of visualizing film actors in starring roles while reading. For instance, Clive Owen will always be Orwell’s Winston Smith and the actor who portrayed 1920’s gangster Arnold Rothstien on Boardwalk Empire is forever Evelyn Waugh’s Anthony Blanche. And I think we all know how film adaptations, as Mendelsund advises to see only after careful consideration, can affect the mind’s eye forever in regard to beloved literary characters.
Mendelsund argues, “it is precisely what the text does not elucidate that becomes an invitation to our imaginations,” and it is this power of collaborative imagining that makes reading, by way of this tie between you and the author, a humanizing endeavor. I like to understand these gaps in character description as mine to interpret, and it is this “cognitive dissonance” makes of reading an interactive experience (Mendelsund 1).
Medelsund, Peter. “What We See When We Read?” The Paris Review. 2014, Print.
*image courtesy of Pinterest