Operations of Reading

This piece is built around the ‘reading’ we had with Aveek Sen (Scholar in Residence at WCFA) in design studio. The blog (and may be all writing too) is a montage of imperfection of memory and shortcomings of  documentation ( A reference to a similar phrase by Julian Barnes in The Sense of an Ending) . I have tried to quote Aveek’s words as accurate as my memory and scribblings in my notebook allowed. We were reading the chapter ‘Cities’ in the brilliant book ’The Idea of India’ by Sunil Khilnani.

Aveek equated ‘tracing the line in the book to walking in the streets’. The way one meanders in a city shaping memories, is similar to how one reads the lines in a book. The acts of ‘walking, reading, talking’ are operative agents of engagement with the actions performed. And everyone ‘reads to one’s own unique printed voice’.  We discussed on how underling the text while reading is a process of archiving thoughts. When one visits the book again, these underlined words open new trajectories of thought. The act of marking and adding comments in an active way to engage with the text. We discussed the similarities between ‘reading’ a text and a drawing. Both acts reveal the fractures in the intellect. ‘Reading is a simultaneous act of listening to the printed voice and realisation of thoughts forming in the head’. It can trigger multiple associations. Reading can act as a ‘cartographic’ device of the mind by allowing ’thoughts to write itself into the text’ one is reading. Likewise, reading a plan can be a ‘architectonic exercise’. I mentioned of my recent reading of a courtyard in a plan for a house in Delhi, which recalled my design process for a courtyard I had designed earlier and reminded the courtyards I had visited/documented in my travels before. Aveek articulated this experience as ‘palimpsest’ , where ‘layers of memory are projected in the text/drawing one is reading’.

This reading led to me a piece I had read long time back. Tim Parks in his brilliant The New York Review of Books blog ’The Weapon for Readers’ writes about the habit of reading with a pen in hand :

“There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text. We are no longer passive consumers of a monologue but active participants in a dialogue”

“Looking back over the pages we have already read and marked, or coming back to the novel months, maybe years later, we get a strong sense of our own position in relation to the writer’s position. Where he said this kind of thing, I responded with that, where he touched this nerve, my knee jerked thus. Hence a vehicle for self knowledge is created, for what is the self if not the position one habitually assumes in relation to other selves? These days, going back to reading the books that have remained since university days, I see three or four layers of comments, perhaps in different colored pens. And I sense how my position has changed, how I have changed.”

The reinforcement of the ‘palimpsest’ in this occurence : is me remembering a piece on reading by Tim Parks , prompted by Aveek’s reflection on ‘operations of reading’, while reading an essay by Sunil Khilnani.