Authored by the reader

A Reading Note

On reading as a creative, productive habit:

When Augustine (in Petrarch’s imagining) suggests is a new manner of reading: neither using the book as a prop for thought, nor trusting it as one would trust the authority of a sage, but taking from it an idea, a phrase, an image, linking to it another culled from a distant text preserved in memory, tying the whole together with reflections of one’s own—producing, in fact, a new text authored by the reader. In the introduction to De viris illustribus, Petrarch remarked that this book was to serve as “a sort of artificial memory” of “dispersed” and “rare” texts, and that he not only had collected them but, more importantly, had lent them an order and a method. To his readers in the fourteenth century, Petrarch’s claim was astonishing, since the authority of a text was self-established and the reader’s task was that of an outside observer; a couple of centuries later, Petrarch’s personal, re-creative, interpretative, collating form of reading would become the common method of scholarship throughout Europe.

Manguel, A History of Reading, page 63

That’s very much the same thing we all do now, when we share a link on Twitter with a bit of commentary, or bookmark and tag a link for later reference. Our reading sources are now more dispersed, but easier to gather. I like to think Petrarch would approve.

Related books

A History of Reading

Alberto Manguel

Manguel’s lifelong dedication to reading plays itself out in a work that follows reading from clay tablets to present day.