Wednesday, February 22, 2006

William B. Warner -Staging Readers Reading-

"Finally, in a painting by Chardin, "A young girl reciting her Gospels," (figure 7;1753), one grasps the expected payoff of the enlightenment pedagogical project: a young girl stands before her mother, who is holding a book, and recites what she has learned from her reading. The intimacy of this domestic space does not qualify the solemn importance of what is transpiring. Here truth is given its ideal symbolic resonance as light: it passes from Nature (as sunlight) to the mother ('s dress) to the gospels she holds, to the face and bonnet of the young girl who recites the Word she has learned. While this metaphorical substitution of light for truth has its grounds in the fourth Gospel (John 1:4-5,9), this trope was also of course adapted by secular thinkers of the Eighteenth century to characterize this epoch as an "age of Enlightenment."(Kant)
These four paintings describe, celebrate, and promote the proper practice of reading as a way to enlighten readers by educating them. Of course, like all representations of reading or spectatorship, these images don’t really tell us what is going on when one reads. But notice the implicit corollary of the enlightenment program of reading as mimicry: by making the reader a passive receptacle for the book’s meaning, this theory of reading makes the reading of the wrong kind of writing especially dangerous. By interpreting reading as automatic and uncritical, the enlightenment theory of reading produced as its logical correllary the anxiety triggered by the popularity of novels among the young."
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