Why We Re-read

In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis wrote that anyone who loves to read must also love to re-read. He also gave a definition of myth that included the fact that the outcome of a myth feels inevitable. Pleasure in reading it does not depend on suspense. It carries the weight of the self-evident. It breathes extra life into truths that would not feel as vital if expressed as axioms.

In “Story of Your Life,” the story on which the film Arrival was based, Ted Chiang depicts a mother who is also a linguist reading “The Three Bears” to her young daughter. The mother asks why her daughter wants her to read the story exactly as written if the daughter already knows the ending. “Because I want to hear it” is the answer.

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Later this same mother and linguist explains that some statements, such as “You’re under arrest,””I christen this vessel,” or “I promise” are performative, “a speaker could perform the action only by saying the words. For such acts, knowing what would be said didn’t change anything.” Myth, stories, and rituals like collective re-reading and discussion can be performative in the sense that the truth embedded in the stories does not change but we do. What changes is how deeply the truth penetrates our awareness and how we understand it, especially when we read and discuss stories in community. How we are able to live the truth might also change. Sometimes, an idea just pierces your personal fog like a beam of bright light. Other times, it doesn’t.

Our philosophy discussions, whether they take place as part of our Philosophy in Public Spaces Initiative or our teen group Grey Havens YA, always begin with a story. In some cases, most or all of us are discussing a story that is new to us but often, as in our Harry Potter and Middle-earth discussions, most of us know the story very well. Does that mean that we should stop reading them and talking about them?

We don’t stop telling family stories or the origin stories of traditions because we know how those stories end. We don’t stop because they never really end. When we read and discuss familiar stories together we can have our breath taken away by a line we never really noticed before, we can have the truth of the story reawakened in us, and we can dive deeper into that truth by discovering what rings true to others and how what we rings true to us holds up under the light of collective experience and reason.

We hope you will join us to explore philosophical ideas through the celebration of all kinds of stories. Keep an eye on our Philosophy in Public Spaces and Community pages or just like us on Facebook.

Because I Want to Hear It

 

 

 

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