Reading Expands Us

In An Experiment in Criticism Lewis says this: “Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself.” Reading well helps us to step outside our own naveled gaze and into a different point of view. “We want to see with other eyes,” he says, “to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.” 

Similar to good churches, good readers should like windows more than mirrors. It means we are looking out and going outside of our own thoughts. “Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors,” Lewis says. “One of the things we feel after reading a great work is ‘I have got out’. Or from another point of view, ‘I have got in’; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside.” 

Lewis is clear, as you might already know, that the worldview we enter won’t entirely be our own. He distinguishes entering a story to see what a character is like and entering a story to see what they see, to “occupy” their seat for a few moments and use their eyeglasses onto the world. It’s the latter that Lewis is compelled by, and, as he then points out, “it is irrelevant whether the mood expressed in a poem was truly and historically the poet’s own or one that he also had imagined. What matters is his power to make us live it.”

Perhaps at times in the ebb and flow of life, we’ve been avid readers or readers on hiatus, attending to family or pressures in the workplace. Lewis encourages us to keep at the task and not to let our worlds shrink to the tiny ones some inhabit. He says, “Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.”

Ahh, because remember that fantastic quote of Lewis or read it for the first time, “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”

Happy reading.


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