Words in general have a vocation for rearranging and fixing experience in a way that can be communicated across space and time. Yet often it seems that our experience of the words once written down is as volatile and precarious as our other sense impressions. No reader ever really takes complete control of a book—it’s an illusion—and perhaps to expend vast quantities of energy seeking to do so is a form of impoverishment. Couldn’t there be a hint of irony in Flaubert’s Comme l’on serait savant… (“What a scholar one might be…”)? Is it really wise to renounce all the impressions that a thousand books could bring, all that living, for the wisdom of five or six?
Excerpts from Reading Is Forgetting, by Tim Parks, June 2015, The New York Review of Books. Thanks to Sylvain Rey for bringing this text to my attention.