Reading and the Distancing Paradox

Can a reader really mark a critical distance from the text he/she is engaging with ? Does the reader falsely thinks that he/ she is distancing himself/herself from a text? Does this mean that the reader in not so innocent but is guided by his/her prejudice? He we have to note that the text is not just actually physically read by the reader but also that the text remains with the reader and is often recalled from memory. The reading of text is etched in our memory and actively influence our ways of being-in-the-world. Reader thinks that he/she is marking his boundary or distance from the text but in fact ends up getting involved with the text and enjoying the same.

This idea of distance may be psychoanalytically understood in the light of the work of Donald Winnicott. Winnicott teaches that an infant marks the inner and outer boundary of self with the help of a transitional object. Such object assists the infant to mark the difference between what he/she makes of ‘me’ and ‘not me’. It could be the thumb that he she chews, doll that one hugs , balloon that one plays etc. These transitional objects can be aesthetic objects and other objects in adults. Therefore, we may also realize that reading can make an character or an author transitional object. Just like the infant experiences a transitional object a reader experiences a book as comforting and joy-giving. The inner world of the reader also goes through the transition like the infant between appears an illusion, between ‘me’ and ‘not me’ , between fantasy and reality, between internal and external world.

Reading a text can affect readers differently. In some contexts, existential anxieties of the reader may find solace in the creative narration of the author or even character in the text can also become a transitional object. This means the distance that the reader thinks that he/she is marking from the text becomes blurred and the reader and text intermingle with the transitional phenomena which the text opens to the reader. The text offers an other that becomes a helpful object to overcome or handle the distress that the reader is facing in his or her life. This disruption of the distance marked by the reader from the text is indeed therapeutic. After the initial distantiation, the reader gradually blurs the distance between him/her and the text. What we are facing is a distancing paradox.

A reading of a text enables the reader to distance his living context from the immediate ( literary) situation of the text. But as the reader engages the text, he/she is likely to face a collapse of this initial distancing. This happens when the reader encounters a transitional phenomena in the text. The transitional phenomena offer a transitional object which could be a character, event, place etc., within the text which enables the reader to cope with what is immediately threatening his/her psychic integration and to create a space in which he/she can reflect on situation in which he/she find himself/herself in real life. Thus, the playful and the illusory (fantasy) in the text enables the reader find therapy and psychic integration. Hence, the distance that the reader marks is transitory. If one reflects deeply, it is also a transitory object that comforts the reader and enable him/her to encounter the text in freedom and serenity.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao