by Mark Dorset
Addressing the reader directly is an example of the rhetorical device known as polyptoton, a variation of person, in this case personal address.
Longinus (or Dionysius):
On the Sublime (translated by T. S. Dorsch)Friedrich Schlegel:
Aphorisms from the Lyceum, 1797Ernst Behler and Roman Struc:
(translated by Ernst Behler and Roman Struc)
Poor Julius! So many writers and so few readers! It’s a fact. People read less and less nowadays . . . to judge by myself, as they say. It’ll end by some catastrophe—some stupendous catastrophe, reeking with horror. Printing will be chucked overboard altogether; and it’ll be a miracle if the best doesn’t sink to the bottom with the worst.
Les Caves du Vatican (1914)Edna O’Brien:
These are more careless times. Literature is no longer sacred. It is a business. There is an invisible umbilical cord between the writer and his potential reader, and I fear that the time has gone when readers could sink into a book the way they did in the past, for the pace of life is fast and frenetic. The world is cynical: the dwelling on emotions, the perfection of style, the intensity of a Flaubert is wasted on modern sensibility. I have a feeling that there is a dying, if not a death, of great literature. Some blame the television for it. Perhaps. There is hardly any distinction between a writer and a journalist—indeed most writers are journalists. Nothing wrong with journalism any more than with dentistry, but [literature and journalism] are worlds apart! Whenever I read the English Sunday papers I notice that the standard of literacy is high—all very clever and hollow—but no dues to literature. They care about their own egos. They synopsize the book, tell the plot. Well, fuck the plot! That is for precocious schoolboys. What matters is the imaginative truth, and the perfection and care with which it has been rendered. . . . The nicest readers are—and I know by the letters I receive—youngish people who are still eager and uncontaminated, who approach a book without hostility.
from a Paris Review interviewJames Fenimore Cooper:
It is proper that the course of the narrative should be staied, while we revert to those causes, which have brought in their train of consequences, the singular contest, just related. The interruption must, necessarily, be as brief, as we hope it may prove satisfactory to that class of readers who require, that no gap should be left, by those who assume the office of historians, for their own fertile imaginations to fill.
The PrairieAnthony Trollope:
If the extension of novel-reading be so wide as I have described it—then very much good or harm must be done by novels. The amusement of the time can hardly be the only result of any book that is read, and certainly not so with a novel, which appeals especially to the imagination, and solicits the sympathy of the young. A vast proportion of the teaching of the day,—greater probably than many of us have as yet acknowledged to ourselves,—comes from these books, which are in the hands of all readers. It is from them that girls learn what is expected of them, and what they are to expect when lovers come; and also from them that young men unconsciously learn what are, or should be, or may be, the charms of love,—though I fancy that few young men will think so little of their natural instincts and powers as to believe that I am right in saying so. Many other lessons also are taught. In these times, when the desire to be honest is pressed so hard, is so violently assaulted, by the ambition to be great; in which riches are the easiest road to greatness; when the temptations to which men are subjected dull their eyes to the perfected iniquities of others . . . men’s conduct will be actuated much by that which is from day to day depicted to them as leading to glorious or inglorious results. The woman who is described as having obtained all that the world holds to be precious, by lavishing her charms and her caresses unworthily and heartlessly, will induce other women to do the same with theirs . . . . The young man who in a novel becomes a hero . . . by trickery, falsehood, and flash cleverness, will have many followers . . . . thinking of all this, as a novelist must surely do . . . it becomes to him a matter of deep conscience how he shall handle those characters by whose words and doings he hopes to interest his readers.
An AutobiographyDawn Powell:
Ever since Lady Chatterley’s Lover it has struck me that the forces of censorship are not against the immoral suggestions in the book but against the high literary quality of the work which enrages certain readers, forcing them to face their impregnable ignorance. . . . Actually, the attack is on reading. You find it constantly. The chronically stupid mother or father or teacher, incapable of concentration, is driven to frenzies of temper by the clever child’s absorption in any book. . . . What can be more galling than to find the child demonstrating the independence of his ideas? Therefore, the books must be suspected, destroyed, or hidden.
Diary Entry, May 26, 1948
[Note that this is the attitude of the general population today: the culture that everybody understands is good enough for me; it ought to be good enough for you, too; anything else is elitist. MD]Miguel de Cervantes:
In short, our gentleman became so immersed in his reading that he spent whole nights from sundown to sunup and his days frowm dawn to dusk in poring over his books, until, finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind. He had filled his imagination with everything that he had read, with enchantments, knightly encounters, battles, challenges, wounds, with tales of love and its torments, and all sorts of impossible things, and as a result had come to believe that all these fictitious happenings were true; they were more real to him than anything else in the world.
The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la ManchaWalter Benjamin:
“The Station in Life of Don Quixote”
(translated by Samuel Putnam)
If my experience may serve as evidence, a man is more likely to return a borrowed book upon occasion than to read it. And the non-reading of books, you will object, should be characteristic of collectors? This is news to me, you may say. It is not news at all. Experts will bear me out when I say that it is the oldest thing in the world. Suffice it to quote the answer which Anatole France gave to a philistine who admired his library and then finished with the standard question, “And you have read all these books, Monsieur France?” “Not one-tenth of them. I don’t suppose you use your Sèvres china every day?”
“Unpacking My Library” in IlluminationsWayne Booth:
(translated by Harry Zohn)
Don Quixote might have been rescued by reading Don Quixote, and . . . Emma Bovary’s best hope would have been to read Madame Bovary.
An Ethics of Fiction
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|Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Eric Kraft
A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Portions of A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) were first published by Voyager, Inc., as part of The Complete Peter Leroy (so far).
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.
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