Dermot Moran, commenting on Merleau-Ponty (blogged about at However Fallible and Perverse Egalitarianism), argues that seeing is tactile, that even when our gaze moves from one thing to another, "we do not drop into the invisible." After a thing drops from visual focus there remains a background of the visible, analogous to a tactile background that remains after something has been touched. Moran then presents what appears to be an exceptional case. "Reading is a kind of seeing that has transcended the seeing of the letters and marks on the page and resides in the pure incorporeality of the meanings," he says. I, having expressed the view here that reading is coporeal, will offer a few words to elaborate my sense of reading and then, hopefully, further a critical appreciation of reading.
Instead of the transcendence of our bodily experience of written signsthere are reasons, such as the eye strain Moran cites, to believe that such a transcendence could never be perfectly accomplishedwe should think of rough transpositions from one bodily mode of experience to another. Reading represents a practically silent transposition of the visual into the vocal, or, in the case of those who read sign language, a practically motionless transposition into the manual. Naturally one can read aloud or gesturally or both, and one can respond demonstrably as one reads, affirming or denying, testifying, commenting, revising, thinking, speaking. All reading passes through the faculty of speech, which resides in the body and its assuetudes. In fact it has its genesis in assuefaction, the faculty of faculties, so to speak, and this being the case it never transcends bodily experience.
Reading never transcends bodily experience. The idea can be critiqued. Obviously. I've raised the problem of the noetic faculty before, which according to some views would be a transcendent faculty, presumably, being transcendent, transcending even assuefaction itself. Quite a conundrum, given certain definitions of noesis. A version of the conundrum appears to be presented to us by Moran's idea of the pure incorporeality of meanings. Does it make sense for me to talk about a faculty for speech separate from a faculty for language, pure language, which according to many reasonable definitions allows for, indeed demands, the disembodiment of meanings? I've sometimes taken the view that the incorporeality of meanings is such a fantastic notion that those who propose it bear an onus to explain it. I've spoken of *language. Have I blinded myself to a reality of language? Of thought? How do I know what a body is? What burden do I bear?
The case of reading does not appear to a simple matter of transcendence into pure incorporeality. As in the past, I ask that you attend to your own experiences of reading as you think about the issue. As much as the eyes, reading resides in the voice and in the hands.