Tag Archives: Marcel Proust

Within You

Cognitive immersion, absorption, deep reading.  Whichever term you use to describe it, if you have ever found yourself so caught up in a narrative that you forget where you are, then you have experienced it.

Reading is a unique experience.  It literally requires us to think differently.  Unlike viewing a movie or a piece of art or engaging in sports it makes us set aside all need to act or react.  Instead we allow ourselves to relax into the narrative, knowing that nothing we do externally or otherwise will change the outcome.  No other medium allows us such an intimate look into the thoughts and motivation of another person.

French novelist Marcel Proust wrote in 1906 “that which is the end of [the author’s] wisdom appears to us as but the beginning of ours.”  In other words, we take the authors words and from their sensory clues build a world and an understanding of how it works.  We learn vicariously through the experiences of the characters.

Editor Peter Dimok made the statement in 2010 that ‘[this] kind of reading, then is a time of internal solitary consciousness in which the reading consciousness is brought up to the level of knowledge of the author-the furthest point another mind has reached, as it were . . .”

Norman N. Holland’s essay Literature and the Brain discusses this phenomenon.   As stated in Nicholas Carr’s blog Thinking about Reading.  (http://www.roughtype.com/?p=1565)

‘“We gain a special trance-like state of mind in which we become unaware of our bodies and our environment,” explains Holland. “We are ‘transported.’” It is only when we leave behind the incessant busyness of our lives in society that we open ourselves to literature’s transformative emotional power. That doesn’t mean that reading is anti-social. The central subject of literature is society, and when we lose ourselves in a book we often receive an education in the subtleties and vagaries of human relations. Several studies have shown that reading tends to make us more empathetic, more alert to the inner lives of others. The reader withdraws in order to connect more deeply.’

In essence the author has shared their mind with the reader.

There have been multiple studies conducted to measure and quantify how the brain reads and what, if any changes, take place.   Many postulate that deep reading makes us more sympathetic.

Gale Roebuck in her blog post Technology is not the enemy in the battle for the book noted that:

‘Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories. They found that ”readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative”. The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life to create a new mental synthesis. Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways.

The discovery that our brains are physically changed by the experience of reading is something many of us will understand instinctively, as we think back to the way an extraordinary book had a transformative effect on the way we view the world. This transformation only takes place when we lose ourselves in a book, abandoning the emotional and mental chatter of the real world. That’s why studies have found this kind of deep reading makes us more empathetic, or, as Nicholas Carr puts it in his essay The Dreams of Readers, ”more alert to the inner lives of others”.’

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/technology-is-not-the-enemy-in-the-battle-for-the-book-20120102-1pi8s.html#ixzz2P84DHnTu

So what are your thoughts on this issue?  Does reading make us more sympathetic?  Should we be concerned over the ‘fast food’ style reading that permeates our culture now?