Those Who Fail to Reread are Obliged to Read the Same Story Everywhere

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Rereading, an operation contrary to the commercial and ideological habits of our society, which would have us ‘throw away’ the story once it has been consumed (‘devoured’), so that we can then move on to another story, buy another book, and which is tolerated only in certain marginal categories of readers (children, old people, and professors), rereading is here suggested at the outset, for it alone saves the text from repetition (those who fail to reread are obliged to read the same story everywhere), multiplies it in its variety and its plurality: rereading draws the text out of its internal chronology (‘this happens before or after that’) and recaptures a mythic time (without before or after); it contests the claim which would have us believe that the first reading is a primary, naïve, phenomenal reading which we will only, afterwards, have to ‘explicate,’ to intellectualize (as if there were a beginning of reading, as if everything were not already read: there is no first reading, even if the text is concerned to give us that illusion by several operations of suspense, artifices more spectacular than persuasive); rereading is no longer consumption, but play (that play which is the return of the different).”

Roland Barthes (1915-1980), French literary critic, linguist, and philosopher. In one of his most well-known essays, “The Death of the Author “(published in 1967), Barthes dismisses the traditional critical approach to literature that interprets an author’s work based on his or her biography and set of beliefs (religious, political, cultural, etc.). He believed that to assign one interpretation to an author’s text is to impose limits on that text. Instead, Barthes believes that the reader must separate the text from the author. That is to say, that the meaning of the text lies not with the analysis of the author, but with the impressions or perceptions of the reader.

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