What is the main difference between interior experience of a text and a more external reading? Why, the possibility of inviting others to listen in and to share their own viewpoints on the subject matter, of course. Upon silently reading Jorge Luis Borges’ 1951 essay “On the Cult of Books” and then comparing it to a verbally spoken version afterward, I immediately noticed how it seemed less like a private rumination of different interpretations of the concept of the book and more of an allure to express and formulate opinion. In the former reading, the text seemed like water with the different interpretations chasing each other one after the other across the page, much like my own thoughts at being confronted with them. In the latter reading, the words felt like they were set in stone: immovable, concrete, a prompt to set off discussion that was much more reminiscent of a public stage. In one scenario, I am a private participant; in the other, I am provided with a challenge to share my view. Both serve an essential purpose, one to help establish what I believe, the other to help me share it.
According to Borges, Saint Augustine hypothesized in Book VI of Confessions that Ambrose read silently “‘perhaps to protect himself in case he had a hearer interested and intent on the matter, to whom he might have to expound the text being read if it contained difficulties, or who might wish to debate some difficult questions.'” (Borges). Traditionally, reading was a social event, a way to gather everyone together to share opinions and to debate. The idea of keeping thoughts to oneself to broaden one’s interior life rather than including everyone in it was not as common. With this idea in mind, it becomes easier to understand why Augustine found this event significant enough to mention. The act of reading was thought to be a public occurrence. Keeping it strictly one-on-one to aid in discernment and individuality had yet to enter public consciousness on a wider scale.
Silent and vocalized reading each have their uses. To ascertain one’s views, there needs to be a certain space and privacy allotted to let the reader absorb the text in its entirety and analyze how they personally retain and embody it. On the other hand, an opinion exists to be shared and inviting other people to do the same is vital. There is an interrelationship between the two that cannot be brushed aside. Not sharing a reading all the time, I think, contributes to that much stronger of a vocalized opinion when a reading is designed as an invitation. Having no room or “brain space” to formulate an individual opinion can make it hard to have any at all. Thus, is it not more ideal to allow for private reading experiences that promote a stronger, individual opinion in a public forum?
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” 1951.