16 March 2007

Reading, writing and scripture

From the point of view of a writer a text is never finalized, a writer is always prone to reworking or reshaping it knowing that any detail of a text is only one of the possible realizations of the potential paradigm. Anything could be changed. For the reader the text is a cast-iron structure, where everything is in the only possible place, where everything bears a meaning and nothing can be changed. An author perceives the final text as a last draft, while a reader takes what is a last draft to be a finalized text.
— Yuri Lotman (1990, 79)

Every reader who's done any writing will recognize the truth of this simple observation. From there it's but a short step to realizing that the typical reader's attitude finds its purest expression in the believer's attitude toward Scripture. Since ‘everything bears a meaning’ is inseparable in his mind from ‘nothing can be changed,’ he resists the evidence presented by historians, critics and scholars that the sacred texts have in fact changed. To the pure reader, the idea that the sacred text was ever a work in progress appears blasphemous. Those who read the universe as the perfected work of the Creator feel the same about the notion of evolution. But this ‘pure reader’ confuses historical time with real time.

The reader's real time is utterly unlike the writer's. In reader's time, the text has to be taken as a constant in order to find and fix some definite relations among the floating variables appearing as the stream of experience. (What else could a meaningful text be about?) So the song, poem, film, story or scripture is perfectly connected to the deeper order at the heart of things. But once this order is discovered and confirmed, then it can be taken as constant, and the text as variable. Eventually the text reveals itself as a draft to be revised for the renewal of the ordering vision. So now we're in writer's time. Semiosis, like breathing, has to keep cycling from inspiration to expiration, round and round again, in order to stay alive.

The reader who doesn't know himself as the writer of his own understanding thinks inspiration is life and expiration death. He doesn't see the larger life of the whole cycle. Lacking intimacy with the writer, he imagines the Author—or in science, the Expert—as an authority to whom he is subject, and before whom he is abject. Intimologies are cures for this disease of dialogue.

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