Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/8

I’ve been flirting as of late with the first section of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel I’ve been meaning to read for about as long as I can remember (though my memory is notoriously sub-par). Given how overdetermined, overly allusive and overwritten (I mean that as praise) Ulysses is, this quote from Roland Barthes really resonates with me, the reader who’s preparing to drown in the novel’s seemingly inexhaustible complexity; the quote comes from Barthes’s essay “From Work to Text”, which can be found in his book Image-Music-Text. The conception of reading as a productive activity that is every bit as mentally strenuous as the initial creation of the work by its supposed author runs counter to popular conceptions of reading as a more automatic, almost unconscious practice in which the reader throws it into cruise-control and lets the writer do all the thinking for them. If we follow Barthes’s line of thought here (as well as in his more famous essay “The Death of the Author”, also contained in Image-Music-Text), then both the writer and the reader are kinds of authors, participants in the grand circulation of potential meanings. In writing the writer creates something (for Barthes, “the work”), but so too does the reader when reading (“the text”).  Anyone who has ever felt cognitively victimized by the work of a modernist writer (I’m looking at you, Joyce and Beckett) could certainly tell you that literature is never merely a matter of being written to or at: it’s always at least a two-way street, if not a multi-multi-lane mega-highway. As far as emphasis goes, the bold is mine and the italics are Barthes’s.

“The Text (if only by its frequent ‘unreadability’) decants the work (the work permitting) from its consumption and gathers it up as play, activity, production, practice. This means that the Text requires that one try to abolish (or at the very least to diminish) the distance between writing and reading, in no way by intensifying the projection of the reader into the work but by joining them in a single signifying practice. […] The reduction of reading to a consumption is clearly responsible for the ‘boredom’ experienced by many in the face of the modern (‘unreadable’) text, the avant-garde film or painting: to be bored means that one cannot produce the text, open it out, set it going.” (Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text”)

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