Reading After Theory

Deconstruction is said to be the last word and the final solution. We can trace this position among those who proclaim the death of theory. Some even proclaim the death of ideology and claim that we have entered a phase that can be described as after theory or post-ideology. Reading continues and therefore theory and ideology cannot be ignored. It stays with the texts and reading brings the context to text disrupting theories and ideologies that stay imprisoned within it. Therefore, the question is, what do we do with the afterlife of theory that continues even after its death? Reading always comes after theory/ writing. This is why all reading is post-theorist. When we read we trail behind theory. Reading is always a late comer. It is always belated. It is eaten of the tree of theory.

Obviously, it comes after writing. It needs a preceding text to proceed. But what is less obvious is that reading comes prejudiced and predisposed to the text. The reader’s being-in-the-world affects his/her mode of reading(s). No reader can fully get out of the skin of his/her being-in-the-world. A readers is not a tabula rasa. He/she cannot fully wipe his/her emotional, spiritual, intellectual, opinionated and attitudinal slate as they come in contact with a text. Working our way with this pre-reading baggage, we have also to think about the kind of competences that we need to bring into our reading philosophy/ literature. We may need a bank of competences to read. This means we need a foresight to encounter a text. This foresight offers us a forewarning about the kind of text we are going to encounter. This forewarning enables us to forearm ourselves with strategies that build our competences to encounter a text.

There is no blind reading. All reading brings about a fusion of horizons of the text and its reader. The fantasy of an independent objective reader is an illusion. There is never an innocent reading. We do not come purely open to the text. It is the encounter of the reader with the text that opens both the closed reader as well as the closed text. It is in this encounter that fusion of horizons events. This is why even when we read the same text, we do not necessarily derive the same meaning. Openness to the encounter is all that one needs. Therefore, reading is not just the work of the reader. It is the event of reading/ the encounter that occurs that is deciphering the meaning that comes out of any reading. The words speak. But words speak in a polyvocal voice. We need the event of reading to come to the message of the words.

If we think that there is innocent reading, then we posit that the reader is solely responsible for the production of meaning. If this is the case, we are still into what Derrida calls logocentrism. We cannot read the bare Word/ sola Scriptura all on our own. The protestant claim, therefore, is clearly erroneous. They also need faith to illumine their reading. Therefore, there is no bare reading of a bare Word. We need the help of the paidagogos (the slave who took children to school) to lead us to the encounter of reading. All reading comes after theory. Theory is everywhere. The Greek word thoros meaning spectator already indicates that we need eyes to see. The readerly gaze is the eyes ( predispositions and prejudices) that are brought to bear on the text by the reader. But the event of reading is not just passive seeing. it is a dynamic event where the reader and the text/ author as well as the context of both fuse to produce meaning often unimagined by both the author or the reader.

After the death of the author, we had arrived to the reader. But post-theory or after theory, we will have to come to the death of the reader. We have to do the funeral of the reader. There is no naked reading and there is no bare reader. Reader is no passive spectator but is an active player and needs the text and context to play the game of reading. Hence, reading philosophy or any other literature has to come to reading after the death of a reader. Therefore, we have to come to reading after Cartesian solo-working, solo-reading reader. There are no solo-readers. Such imperial readers and imperial readings are suspect. All readers are rooted into an interpretive tradition and, therefore, into an interpretive community. Even those that champion innocent solo-reading belong to the tribe of Rene Descartes. This means every reader is a committed reader.

To come to this understanding, we may have to leave the shore of words. Ferdinand Saussure brilliance laid precisely in this. He taught us that language has to be thought of as a sign system rather than of words. Words belong to downstream. Upstream is the sign system. It is dynamic and cannot be easily deciphered. Saussure did show that all sign systems are organized as sets of binaries. But this position is limiting though can offer us access to some hidden insights. But it does not offer us an insight into the reader. We do not set up the reader in an oppositional/ dialectical relation with the text. Such a reader is a solo-working reader that is already abandoned by us.

We propose that a reader is in friendly dialogical relationship with the text. This dialogue is a duologue. It is tri-ologue . Text/author, context and reader are all involved in this dialogue/ tri-ologue. This is why the being-in-the-world of the reader as well as being-in-the-world of the text/author are important. Hence, we have to sensitively accept that although reader comes downstream to read but is still under the influence of the semiotic load that he/she carries from upstream. Reading is a synchronic dialogue but does not leave its diachronic dimensions. Hence, there is more meaning/ reading to come. All reading is delayed and is different. Derrida’s differace does describe our practices of reading(s). we have to admit there are more readers and their sliding reading(s) as well as more authors and their texts  to come.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao