I recently discovered Levi Asher’s Literary Kicks blog and read his piece “Why Reading Is Always Social.” It surprises me that this is even an argument, as reading seems to me one of the most immensely social activities we have. While on the outside it might not seem so – one sits down alone to read and enjoy a novel, story, essay, article or comic book. But, in truth, the mere act of reading and interpreting the work of another is a direct conversation between reader and writer, artist and audience. In many ways one is incomplete without the other. We don’t write to our reader’s sensibilities (necessarily), but we do write to tell a story, paint a picture, or get an idea across and the reader brings all of their past experience and understanding to that story, picture or idea.
This all puts me in mind of my favorite idea in all of literary theory, Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism. Simply put, all literature is in a continuous dialogue with other literature and authors, a circular dialogue that loops back and forth, extending in both directions from the past and the present. It’s like intertextuality on steroids. While it may seem obvious that a writer from the past influences a current writer, in the dialogical imagination the current writer influences the previous one. For me, this is where the reader comes in, merging the past and present as he or she draws on previous experience with literature to color the current experience. It’s all a wonderful way of thinking of the world as connected by literature. And we can thank Bakhtin, pictured below looking like he just finished rolling a joint. Cheers!