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Notes Written to Class members on Various Chapters from Bayard

(Fall responses come first; last quarter's responses follow. Each is listed by the Chapter it addresses)

First, a general remark. One reason I wanted to use Bayard in this class is that while he clearly is writing within recent theoretical conversations about what reading is, and while conversations about the status of the author and of authorial intent are also central to what he talks about, his own book has both a lot of wit and theoretical interest, on one hand, and a certain amount of apparent self-contradiction on the other. It is not a perfect book, and he is not a perfect writer.

What I hoped was that that fact would allow you as new readers of theory to see that there is plenty of room to ask questions of what he argues, to challenge him, to accept one argument, but to keep your distance from another.

But why is this good thing and not just something that makes the whole enterprise of this course thoroughly and frustratingly confusing? (For a student might quite reasonably say: I'm having trouble figuring out what all these people say. Can't you just give us SOMETHING CLEAR???!!!)

My answer: As much as I'd like to give you that sort of clarity, that's exactly the difficulty that theoretical discourse poses for us. It is (just as the Burke paragraph at the top of the final assignment says) a constant and on-going conversation, and what we know through theory, or learn to talk about in better ways, is constantly helping us engage both traditional questions (like "what is an author" or "what is the role of the reader") as well as new questions (like "how can writing be a colonializing act," or "how can the politics of nationalism help or distort a reader's experience"). Questions of that sort are central now to "What we do when we do English," but they also ask more of us (which includes you) as participants.

In particular, theory asks us each to become better conversationalists about what we do when we do English. It asks us to be more aware of ourselves as readers and writers, and of the field itself as a promoter of reading and writing. Theory has taught us that we need to learn to question the assumptions that underlie what we do, and to read always with a kind of provisional confidence in the sense we make of texts. It asks us to be, in fact, more active and more challenging readers.

So this final project is inviting you to be that more active reader, to engage a text that has both strengths and weaknesses, and to take a role in that ongoing conversation.

There are, as the assignment suggests, lots of different ways to engage in a conversation. Sometimes it's to embrace and reinforce something you hear, sometimes it's to refute it. Other times it's to ask questions. Bayard says X, and I understand what he says. But that seems to be both in line with what Barthes says when he writes Y, yet different, too, in that.... So, what's up with that? (That last would be option c)

In that spirit, here is another exchange about Bayard, Barthes, and the Point of his book, in which one of you has asked an interesting question about something Bayard seems to argue, and of how that relates to what we've read from Barthes.

But as you go on: my intent here is in effect to model the process I'm inviting you to engage in. Someone asks me a question, I give my best response. Does that necessarily end the conversation? No. You may find the conversation you read here helpful to your own conversation about the book--you can cite it, bring it into your work. Or the way people write and talk here (including me) may raise for you still another question, or prompt a different connection. GOOD! that's the point.

So these notes are not secret, and you aren't supposed to read them and then pretend somehow you didn't--a kind of back channel communication that (in James Bond movie style) didn't happen (wink, wink). They are part of the conversation we've had in class--an extension. You can quote them. Just be sure to quote appropriately--cite what you use.

Fall, 2008

On Chapter 5

Question: I have a question regarding something Bayard says in the final paragraph of Chapter 5, page 74. Bayard is talking about the inner library and how they help make us who we are but then says, "and they cannot be separated from us without causing us suffering." I'm not sure I quite understand this point. Could part of his point in this sentence be when the content of our inner libraries are belittled or dismissed, such as what happened in the scene from The Third Man when Crabbin makes some negative comments about Zane Grey?

JW: Yes, that's part of the point. But it's more than that, too. Bayard’s concept of inner library is a way for him to talk about what makes us up as selves at all. Consider that if your very sense of self depends intimately on your inner library (and on 73 he actually goes further: "we are the sum of these accumulated books"—though I must say that seems hyperbolic to me!), and that library constitutes the frame through which you "read"—which means not just pages of a book but the texts of life itself—how could you NOT suffer if that frame, that constituent of the self, were “separated” from you? Belittling or dismissing is only a mild form of separation, but it certainly would for most of us cause suffering when the thing in view is attacked.

Suppose you love a book, and you tell someone that, and then that someone says, well, that's a stupid book. Our normal response, depending on mood and personality, might be either anger or hurt feelings; if the person dismissing our enthusiasm is a figure of power for us (like a parent or a teacher), however, it may do more damage than that. The strong among us will perhaps not be shaken, though we may be irritated. But an attack on a book we have made part of our inner library, Bayard claims, is hard not to read as an attack on oneself, and thus something that begets suffering.

Question: Here is a question that has come up for me in reading Bayard's book. I am writing my final paper on Chapter 5, "Encounters in Society." I feel like I have a grasp on this chapter and how I can relate it to Janice Radway. I know there's something in here that relates to Roland Barthes, too, something about readers' responses related to their inner libraries.

In this chapter, Bayard uses a scene from The Third Man to help explain his ideas of the inner library. In this scene, Rollo Martins gets mad when Crabbins insults Martins' world of "cheap, popular novelettes about bandits and cowboys." Crabbins also says he wouldn't call Zane Grey -- one of Martins' heroes -- a writer at all. There is something Barthes-ish about Crabbins when he knocks Grey off his horse (ha!). But there's also something Barthes-ish about Martins being moved emotionally by the genre of Westerns.

I am not sure how to ask my question, but I will try: We learned from Barthes that the author doesn't matter and that the reader is the destination, the place where writing happens. What would Barthes say about Bayard's idea of the inner library? Would Barthes say that a reader's reaction is something makes up part of the inner library?
Maybe a more simple way to ask this is: How does Barthes' idea of the reader being the destination fit into Bayard's idea of the inner library?

JW: This chapter is Barthes-ish in that it certainly focuses on readers, and on readers' readings of books as a work of construction that begins with an "inner library." What is not very Barthes-ish is Bayard's notion of the inner library. Or rather, it's not that Barthes couldn't think of such a thing, but rather that what he describes as "the reader" has a much more universalized scope. In his account, though he'd grant that individual readers probably would read a text differently, none of those individual readings would be the full reading of the text. He's got a more perfect reader in mind, and the critical process would lead one to be working on something like a joint reading project which would consist of a kind of dialectical progression towards the perfect reading. But Bayard is focusing on a point well short of the completion of that dialectic, and in this chapter (as elsewhere in his book) he in fact holds out no hope of a dialectic's ever really succeeding. The reason for this is that as readers we are more or less stuck with our inner library's conceptual frame. It can change, but it's so resistant to change, and so much a part of what makes us "us" that it's hard to see how it could ever be "the same" as anyone else's--at least anywhere other than in the movie Groundhog Day, where Phil spends a part of his temporary eternity learning Rita's "inner book," as it were. But even there he doesn't so much learn her book as hijack it, creating a creepy sort of form of intellectual stalking. (See Chapter 8 for Bayard on Groundhog Day.)

And that's why Radway might be the closer analogue, though she is using her notion of variable literacies differently of course. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be interesting to explore that connection!

On Chapter 12

Question: So, on Chapter 12. What is Bayard saying about criticism exactly? I am missing the tie in between art and criticism and criticism being an art. Is he saying we are all critics? And that’s the point? That there is something original in being a critic and that creative process is the point of art? *How does this tie into the ‘conversation’*?

JW: OK.  good to be working on chapter twelve!

You have to begin with Wilde, who argues that the role of the critic OUGHT to be the role of the artist.  Few critics are artists, in fact, and that is Wilde's joke about this.  But he goes on to argue that whatever others do, he thinks the best critic is one who uses a book as a pretext for writing whatever he wants to write.  Bayard likes that argument, though for a different reason than Wilde likes it.  Wilde likes it because he IS an artist, as well as an elegant egotist, some would say.  Bayard uses this idea, but with a different purpose.  All book long he has dropped hints that our real problem with reading is that we are being too studious, too constrained, too worried about getting things right.  In doing this we've repressed our selves, tied ourselves in knots, subordinated ourselves to the notion of reading, and, by extension, culture especially as it exists in educational contexts.  We are afraid to be ourselves.  So, he figures, we need a good dose of Wilde to break us free.

Can you go back to the chapter now and see what that idea does for you?


(And here follow the entries from last Spring's conversation about Bayard's book.)

Spring 2008

General Questions of the Book as a whole

Question: As I was working on my Bayard paper, I realized that I'm not entirely clear on Bayard's concept of creativity and how it relates to Barthes' notion of the birth of the reader/death of the author. Is Bayard saying that to be creative, we shouldn't read to ensure we don't cloud our minds with other people's ideas or notions on how we are supposed to read a given text?

JW: This is indeed a little hard to figure out. Certainly, the last chapter seems to argue just about that claim. On the other hand, like a lot of the book, that's an extreme position, and it is clear enough at several other points that books and readings of them are pretty interesting to him. And I would say that in each chapter, he imagines a reader who is relatively naive and therefore an extreme case of someone rendered in some degree helpless or deceived by the reading process.

But of course, we are readers who have read his book, and therefore we are already no longer the "naive" readers we may have been as we started. Thus, (since we will have become better informed readers) he implicitly would have to grant at the same time that the more aware reader who emerges from his book will understand more about the reading process, and will therefore be less a helpless captive to the processes he has described that would render us "other" and so on, or cause us to "unread" or be locked in a "screen book," or be limited in our perceptions by our "inner book."

So, while the last chapter ends with the notion of freeing people from reading itself in order to be creative subjects, one could claim that taken altogether the book really argues that in spite of the many ways reading is a bedeviling process, one which can cramp one's creativity and lead to a guilty and even deceptive relation to what you read, and therefore, to what you know through reading, you can in fact learn enough about the reading process itself that you can be free of such guilt and ignorance (or at least freer than you used to be) even while continuing to be a reader.

And indeed, Bayard himself is most interesting in this book when he is (creatively) using books and movies he has read to illustrate his thinking. He clearly hasn't given it up. As I say, in some degree, what he does with each of the books he "reads" in each chapter is give a creative and "free" response--one that a given book's author might even have been surprised to see as a "reading" of his or her book.

Question: If so, would that relate to Barthes' notion of the author as "scriptor" with Bayard teaching us that reading happens in more than one way and we can't confine ourselves into being the kind of reader that society wants us to be (i.e. in realizing this we are shedding guilt and therefore able to be creative because we are free from societal literary restrictions)? How does this point of view conflict with Barthes'?

JW: We discussed this in class--but the main way Bayard's view of the reader differs from Barthes is that Bayard is working to find a way to read with freedom. One could argue that Barthes' reader is really very controlled. Barthes' reader experiences the multiplicity of a text--and that sounds pretty good. But to be that reader you HAVE to be fully infused with the universe of discourse within which that multiplicity can be realized, and you really don't have any choice about this. That means you can't have lived outside the presumed culture of reading if you are to read in this way, or have a creative streak, or anything that would lead you to be different from that ideal reader.

For Barthes a reader is in a funny way a kind of automaton--you are a perfect reader because you are a perfect creation of the cultural forces that construct the self. You function as a full receptor of every word an ambiguity and multiplicity the text sends your way. Barthes sees this as a kind of powerful position, something to work for and towards. But is it really?

Bayard doesn't think so--indeed, that's even a way of describing one of the limitations of reading he resists. Bayard, as I say above, wants you to be able to read with freedom. In his world you can be the receptor Barthes imagines, but without the same limits.

Question: Is Bayard's fundamental motive in this book to "reveal" the immense pretensions surrounding reading? The reviewers all seem to agree that Bayard's text has a strong ironic streak. I think this lends to the "pretensions" argument.

Is Bayard arguing that reading has become too vast, and therefore chaotic, to engage in meaningful (academic?) discourse or that this discourse, though important, requires his "limited reading" model? Or neither?

JW: Good questions.

I wouldn't personally say Bayard's book is about vastness, or any difference in reading now vs some other time. He certainly does see "reading" as vast. He also is clear that he doesn't think any one of us will ever or could ever read all the books one could be expected to read. Since we all (he claims) feel we should read a lot more than we do, we tend to misrepresent how much we actually have read. And to the extent we do that, we are (one could say, I guess) tending towards the "pretentious."

But I don't think that's his main argument. Instead I'd go with a theme that is perhaps most clearly expressed in Chap 12, which is both very Barthesian and very anti-Barthesian at the same time. Consider the line on p. 180: "To talk about unread books is to be present at the birth of the creative subject."

That’s a great line (by the way) to unscramble and put in the context of Barthes’ argument (where he says the death of the author is "the birth of the reader")--but what does it mean? Mainly, I think, that what Bayard really is looking to do is define and boost the notion of a creative subject, someone who knows that reading is temporary, partial, influenced by what we already know or think we know, and also carried out within a frame of social and personal expectations both for how much we should read and how well we should retain what we've read that are pretty much guaranteed to produce some level of guilt and repression.

By clarifying and complicating our understanding of what we really do when we read, then, Bayard is interested in helping each and every one of us escape that guilt, and in so doing free ourselves to a creativity we are otherwise denied. He quotes Wilde's line about the point of a critic's review being to give that critic a chance to write his own soul. That's a little melodramatic, but he does seem to suggest that if we were guiltfree readers we would worry less about getting any given reading right and as a result would be free to use books in a playful and creative way to enable us to think new and different thoughts which might or might not be what a given author intended or what the literary world seems to think a work means.

So he's actually after something about the nature of the self and its guilts and its freedom--its need to distance itself from culture in order to realize its own creativity.

Now, that, in turn, is an effort to theorize the self that seems to me directly opposed to notions we've set out in this class of the social construction of the self (i.e., that "who we are" is in essential and inescapable ways a product of the cultures within which we develop, live, and learn). As such, it raises theoretical issues of its own.

Leaving those aside, however, I would accept that Bayard's "creative reading" is one way one can imagine of using books, but I would then go on to suggest that other ways of using books seem to be just as, if not more, valuable. Moreover, I'd say that all of what he very cleverly argues in chapters 1-9 could have led in chapters 10-12 to a much more interesting conclusion than this one.

So to my way of reading, Bayard's theme of freeing the self doesn't finally seem to be the most interesting endpoint for what most chapters of the book are doing, which is exploring a series of complications in the nature of reading. That's the part I like about it; I'm far less convinced by the "thesis" that finally emerges, even though I find it very helpful to have to sort all of that out.

On Chapter 4:

Question: I choose to read chapter 4 of Bayard, "how to talk about books you've forgotten" and the main question I have is, according to Bayard, why should we even bother to read if we're not going to remember anything anyway? What is the point of literature if nothing is memorable? Also, what does Bayard mean when he uses the term "unreading"?

JW: Good questions. I think the key is less the extreme case of forgetting altogether than that of partial forgettings. Remember that the naive view of reading he opposes is a view that sees readings as essentially complete and stable. His real target is that—and the extreme case he makes is a way of creating an opening for the more general case (indeed the usual case): partial forgetting. Montaigne certainly doesn't stop reading when he finds that (on occasion) he has forgotten what he has read. He just starts making notes to himself, ways to repair or guard against his (all too human) incapacity to remember everything he reads.

If you imagine that B's project in these chapters is something like the rendering of the complexities of reading that most people overlook, you can see the "forgetting" problem as just one more of the factors that makes reading far more problematic than the normal understanding of it would allow.

(As for “unreading,” you’ll have to tell me where—what page? On 155 it is a synonym for “forgetting”—and probably is such in Chap 4, too)

On Chap 4 (again!)

Question: I am going to write my paper on chapter 4 because I have found that I actually have forgotten many, many books that I have read and I was interested in what Bayard had to say about the subject. There are a few parts that I was confused about. On page 53, when Montaigne is quoting his own comments on texts, is Bayard trying to argue that Montaigne has split into two different 'selves'? The quote that was confusing was "Having forgotten what he said about these authors and even that he said anything at all, Montaigne has become other to himself. He is separated from the earlier incarnation of himself by the defects of his memory, and his readings of his notes represent so many attempts at reunification." Do you think you could clarify that a little bit?

JW: Good question. "being other to yourself" seems a little weird! It depends on a notion of a non-unitary self--something constructed, and changeable, where through the passage of time one can become, as it were, another version of oneself, and thus in at least some way different and even discontinuous from the earlier self. So imagine that one reads a book--and that reading impacts you, makes you in some small degree different from what you were. Now you are, let's say, "Self A." Then time passes, you forget the book you read. Bayard is claiming in effect that you are now become "other" to that earlier self because you are now "less" than what you were when remembered the whole of the book. So now you are self B.

Imagine then that Montaigne, by rereading his notes, is reconstructing his understanding of the book, and so he is "reunifying" himself by bringing his Self B into alignment with his Self A.

How sensible is that? One could say that the way B says this sort of pushes a point to an extreme. How different can one be from reading just a single book, or from forgetting that one has read something? Probably not all that much, even if in a kind of theoretical way it makes sense.

But his more important point isn't really about just one book that you may have forgotten that you read. It's that you have lots and lots of things that you've "read," and you are always forgetting some part of them, even with respect to those books you remember pretty well. But to the degree you forget, you change yourself and become different from the self you were before you forgot. If you add up all these little forgettings, you can see it might make a significant difference, especially if at first you thought that to have read a particular book (let's say Hamlet) made quite a difference in the way you thought you saw the world. If reading doesn't produce a kind of steady state change in us, but only an unstable understanding that in some degree and in some ways always keeps slipping away, then again, it isn't the sort of thing the culture generally thinks it to be.

Question: Also, I was wondering about a paragraph on 55, in which Bayard says: "While reading is enriching in the moment it occurs, it is at the same time a source of depersonalization, since, in our inability to stabilize the smallest snippet of text, it leaves us incapable of coinciding with ourselves." What does it mean to coincide with yourself? Does that just mean being aware of yourself and the fact that you are reading?

JW. Interesting questions. Your first question in this paragraph is more or less answered in my comment above—you no longer "coincide" with yourself when you have become "other" to your (earlier) self. One problem with his claim is that it assumes that the notion of self could ever be the same. In fact, in the sense he describes our selves are changing all the time, both adding stuff and subtracting.

So, who cares? Bayard might reply that he's fine with that, but that the culture's reading-boosters keep talking about how reading makes you so much better than you were before you read something, and he wants to say that this claim is overstated and misleading. Often enough whatever you "gain" from a reading is later lost anyway.

Now, in the end B wants to value reading--just reading redefined in a more complex and nuanced way than most of us have to this point, and for a different purpose than culture normally ascribes to it (see the first response above for more on this).

On Chapter 6:

Question: Can you clarify what B means by “inner book”?

JW: The point about “inner books” is a claim that we have each constructed, he thinks, an inner "grid" of meaning/structure expectations that we see everything we read through. And as we look through it, it operates as a kind of conceptual filter, removing or screening some things and leading us to put in others. So everything we read will, it will seem, share much with what we have already read. We will thus be actively shaping our understanding of what we read, limiting whatever meanings it has by filtering them through our "inner book."

And just as we have individual inner books, so groups can share major features of their inner books, and thus a culture can also have a kind of cultural inner book, a shared point of view that again acts as a filter to what we see, limiting it and even in some degree encouraging us to add things to it. That, he claims, is what the Tiv are doing when they hear the story of Hamlet, but it's also what the anthropologist has done in her earlier reading of Hamlet. She therefore “sees” a very different Hamlet from what the Tiv see.

Bayard doesn't say so, but the concept of "Eurocentrism" also is a way of talking about such a cultural inner book. Tothe extent western readers share a set of dispositions and understandings that filter what they do in seeing/reading/understanding the world, they are applying what B would call a cultural inner book.

On Chapter 8:

Question: Chapter VIII, "Encounters with Someone You Love," seems very straight forward. Is it supposed to be this straightforward, or should I read deeper?

In his first two chapters, Bayard seems to write exactly the opposite of what he really that still the case with later chapters? Is this chapter really about inner fantasies and inner books...or is that a metaphor for something else?

JW: Chapter 8 may be the most straightforward of them all. It is making its point in effect negatively; what happens in the movie is precisely and only a fantasy, since one couldn't ever do it in real life. [One might go on to use this as a way to deconstruct the "truths" of romance narratives ("our two hearts as one" for example).] But this chapter, once it's made its point, just moves on. Maybe he simply really likes the movie (as do I, in fact--I especially like the bowling alley scene!). If you were to write on this chapter I'd really recommend seeing the movie after rereading the chapter, and testing his argument about it. (And maybe testing my reading, too--am I missing something here myself?)

But yes, it's also about inner books, and it makes the same point the preceding chapter makes, but by negation. That we read via our inner books, and that that tends to ensure that reading is a matter of construction as well as understanding--sometimes even more so--really is the "deeper" point.

On Chapter 9

Question: I just finished chapter 9 and felt like it was almost contradictory to the first two chapters we read. In the first two chapters we established that Bayard is not really talking about not reading or about how to talk about books you haven't read (he still in fact values reading and books--it's all irony). But in chapter 9 (if I am understanding everything right), Bayard is truly talking about books people have not read. Is this chapter like his "tips" section for those people who really don't read? Or am I missing a bigger connection to the first two chapters?

JW: OK. First off, in the first two chapters, Bayard is pushing the envelope, to be sure. His whole structure is built upon having read a good deal. But once you have read enough to have established a sense of the collective library, you are then in a position to "read" by a kind of triangulation, which means, you can know the position of a book without having actually read it, and thus know enough about it to talk intelligently of it. And he is serious about that. There are lots of books one can know without reading, or with reading only a certain amount of, and be none the worse off. That's a little exaggerated, since this also presupposes that the conversations are of the sort he recounts, fairly unspecific and general--social, say, but not the intense sort of conversation you will have experienced often enough (one hopes) in or around, say, a class you have taken.

Now, that said, in 9 Bayard is talking about what we do about having an inner library that is a limited version of the collective library, but which doesn't match up to what folks think our inner library should be. So, people expect an English professor to have read Hamlet (Lodge exaggerates, of course. In1967, when Lodge wrote Changing Places, for an English professor not to have read Hamlet might conceivably have caused a stir, but even then it would not have ruined your chances for tenure!), and if she hasn't, that could be sort of embarrassing. So a professor will tend to suggest she has read it or even claim she has, even if she hasn't. So she lives a white lie--and in that, Bayard suggests, we all more or less conspire. We all have holes in what we know/read, and we don't push others hard about whether they are lying because we ourselves could be similarly accused--though the book we have not read may be something different from Hamlet.

(When as grad students my friends played this game, it was won by a guy who claimed not to have read Milton's Paradise Lost. Expectations for reading have changed so much over the past couple of decades, however, that you'd suffer more embarrassment for not having read Barthes' "The Death of the Author" [and that wouldn't be much] than you would for not having read Milton.)

Now, Bayard's point in this chapter is that there is a tension between what you have read and what you think you should have read, both because you haven't read some of what you think you should have read and because you have read some of it but forgotten it, or misread it, or whatever else. And (he claims) you don't want to disclose that--it makes you look bad. So it is guilt about not doing what you should have done that makes you pretend to have read (and to know) more than you've read in fact or remember in fact. So whatever we've worked out about a work from our knowledge od the collective library without having read a book is a source of guilt and shame, though in B's view it shouldn't be, since it's very normal to have such knowledge. Indeed, he'd say you cannot avoid such relations to many books, since nobody ever will have time to read them all anyway.

Or so I see it. Does that help?

On Chapter 10.

Question: I ended up choosing chapter ten, "Imposing Your Ideas", the thesis of which is essentially that it is our discussion about authors and their relationship to the larger literary system that influences how these authors are received by readers and critics alike. Bayard states that the discussion about authors gives their texts a certain mobility, and this mobility has the power to alter the entire virtual library in which it is placed, giving a particular author a new place of greater or lesser significance. If the author's social status evolves, the physical book remains the same while the context in which it is place is bound to change.

The question I have about this chapter is a relatively unsettling one. If critics have the power to entirely change the perspective we take when we read an author, and these critics themselves have not read an author but instead are writing with a knowledge about a literary system which has been constructed by other non-readers, then the entire culture of criticism is grounded on nothing but its artificial self. If this is how the practice of criticism operates and affects literature, why do we pay these critics to talk to us about books they falsely claim to have authority in? Not only that, but because so much of literary discourse is being generated by these critics, we are all in a sense blindly practicing a religion in which the priests are the only holders of the sacred texts which have never really been read. Instead, the sermons seem to be more built upon obvious statements about life or literature in general rather than what the text is actually saying. Even if I had read a book, and I mean really read it, it wouldn't make any difference because the terms under which I could talk about it, or for that matter the ways in which I would produce an understanding, are entirely constructed by people who haven't read it. Is there no way out of this paradigmatic "virtual library"? If Bayard really isn't trying to promote non-reading as a productive/positive practice to fall into, I'm really missing his point.

JW: Good question. And in some sense, absolutely spot on. But in another sense, B's asking you to keep his irony in mind. For in this chapter as in each of the other chapters he takes what is in effect a step in his project to complicate the general understanding of reading and pushes his argument to an extreme as a form both of argument and of teasing, one might say. And I find myself in each chapter looking to find the point somewhere along the line between the "standard" position and the extreme position B gets to, and say (with Luther!): "Here I stand!"

So how can one both recognize the mobility B imputes to the interpretive system, but also locate the point at which you think he has moved into hyperbole? That, in turn, asks that you define that point, or explain where you would draw your line in rejecting/tempering his. His rhetoric sort of dares you to either reject his argument altogether or to succumb, but I think he is really looking for an active reader, someone who supplies some back pressure to his argument, and comes out (as I will say I do in most of these chapters) with a more tempered sense of things than B himself argues. (Which is why this book is a good place to be inviting a reader to respond to what he or she reads, and not just to accept his claim or toss the whole book across the room and into the fire!) (And here the invitation comes on p.146, ll. 4ff.)

Two things I'd suggest you include in your thinking. First, "power" is indeed a part of the social dynamic of literary signification. But it's a question whether the mobility texts have with respect to valuation/reading is "entire." That is the position Balzac puts forth, but he is, after all, parodying practice. And second, maybe there is more than one kind of mobility. Homer has been up and down in the value of texts, but his texts keep coming back. Other texts are up for a while, and then disappear without a trace. Why this difference? What creates that?

But even if in the end there is no final "stability," is that finally disabling? Or is it simply an argument that we should think of books not in terms of whether they are good or bad but in terms (say) of what they do--and then read them in terms of our own using of them? He ends the chapter with an ironic call to "assert the truth of [one's] perceptions." To what degree might some version of that be his real argument? (Think of that claim as a precursor to the claims B makes in Chapter 12.)

On Chapter 12:

Question: In Ch. 12, Bayard makes the point that for Oscar Wilde, it is criticism that makes writing possible. However I do not understand what Bayard means when he writes "If Wilde does not break the link completely between the work and criticism, he strains it significantly by reducing the work to its thematic nature, with the critical text then being judged on the basis of its treatment of those themes and not for its faithfulness. Concentrating on the thematic nature of the object of criticism aligns this original text more closely with art" (174).

I don't understand this because it seems like it should be the other way around, that what Bayard and Wilde seem to suggest in the rest of the chapter is that criticism is art, and that literature allows us to see that, because it provides a way for us to produce our own art by critiquing something else. Also I am wondering if Bayard is drawing from Barthes in this chapter because he talks about about books as a part of all of us that can teach us things about ourselves (178). Wilde seems to be going against expressionist theories but I'm really sure what kind of theory he is using.

JW: First, yes, Bayard is very much is invoking Barthes--esp on p. 180. But in a way that seems to me both dependent upon Barthes and very strongly reactive against Barthes. (See my note at the top of this page).

Second, Bayard's point there is a little oddly put. What B means is that the critic reduces the work to theme by taking only what Wilde (and Bayard) would see as the least significant part of it as the basis of the review--and therefore doesn't engage it very much at all. That means that the book under review can more or less disappear so that the review can be about whatever the reviewer wants it to be about, and NOT about the book itself. Thus the reviewer treats the "thematic nature" of the book—not the book itself. If the book has a theme of freedom, say, the critic/reviewer uses that as his excuse for writing an essay on what he himself thinks about freedom, not about what the author thinks about it.

So what Bayard is saying is that Wilde all-but-breaks the link between the work and criticism of the work, and thereby frees himself to write "the record of [his] own soul."