Reading as We Watch [Not Watching as We Read]

As many have posited, reading Danielewski’s novel can be compared quite closely with watching a television show, or (more loosely) with watching any sort of video at all. The book takes full advantage of its own form, literally illustrating with its own text, to add another dynamic to the plainly apparent complexity of the story. Not only must the reader uncover the details of each of the half dozen or so potentially stand-alone plots but he must at least attempt to make sense of the strange yet illustrative instances of innovative form – the repetitive sentences that cascade across the page like water on glass, the multi-linguistical phrases which one may or may not be expected to translate, the endless brackets of both sentence and code, etc. This sort of form ramps up the speed of the text, creating the sort of visual aura (similar to that of a television screen) that causes the reader to watch the novel and its unique form go by as its pages turn. The reader naturally becomes less concerned with the more traditional approach of reading the sentence/paragraph/etc., momentarily digesting what he has read (not watched), then forming his own idea as it pertains to the narrative and its plot before voluntarily turning the page and moving onto the next sentence/paragraph/etc. Danielewski purposely whys away from this sequential logic of narrative/literary discovery, making it nearly impossible. His paragraphs become fragments and his lack of explication and the absence of linear progression become fundamentally disorienting. And in the midst of this perplexing activity the text naturally speeds up, as the reader realizes that he must search desperately for more stylistic familiarity by whizzing through the “visuals” with which he is constantly bombarded. The novel becomes a video, a film, a rapid slideshow of images, for the reader cannot simply “read, digest, and voluntarily move through” everything; he can can only look at, or watch, what is being present before his scanning eyes.

Undoubtedly, this innovative style creates much confusion for the reader. However, as with a television show in which one is presented with countless visual stimuli that gradually filter out to form a comprehendible story, I believe the novel with its numerous volumes attempts to do the same – familiarizing the watcher so much so that he will gradually come to know what exactly he should be looking for, what exactly he should be “reading,” and, more importantly, what exactly warrants none of his attention. Within film this takes place very quickly, as the viewer quickly realizes what is to grab his attention through the camera’s focus and subtle suggestions. The question is, however, how long until the bound pages of a book allow the same – for the reader (with his traditional habits) often believes that every word is painstakingly chosen for its particular place. And will everyone arrive at the turning point from “watching” to “reading” at the same time within the text, if even at all?


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