Sunday Book-Thought 110

It is clear that any attempt to define the act of reading in a universal sense is misguided. What counts as an act of reading varies from place to place and time to time, according to the social and institutional circumstances of the reader. Any boundary that the researcher sets around the act of reading also has to be seen as porous, and in such a way that permits other participants to enter the act. In other words, individual instances of reading are always embedded in historically and spatially located cultures of print. And once we recognize that understanding the act of reading must take account of those social and institutional circumstances in which reading takes place, we can imagine readers as embedded in reading communities. That leap of the imagination in turn frees us to exercise our ingenuity in uncovering the multitude of details – those ‘distinctive traits’ of reading practices, and ‘the specific mechanisms that distinguish the various communities of readers and traditions of reading.’
Christine Pawley, ‘Seeking “Significance”: Actual Readers, Specific Reading Communities’, Book History, 5 (2002), 143-160 (p. 157).

Sunday Book-Thought 107

Judging a poem is like judging a pudding or a machine. One demands that it work. It is only because an artifact works that we infer the intention of an artificer. ‘A poem should not mean but be.’ A poem can be only through its meaning – since its medium is words – yet it is, simply is, in the sense that we have no excuse for inquiring what part is intended or meant. Poetry is a feat of style by which a complex of meaning is handled all at once. Poetry succeeds because all or most of what is said or implied is relevant; what is irrelevant has been excluded, like lumps from pudding and ‘bugs’ from machinery. In this respect poetry differs from practical messages, which are successful if and only if we correctly infer the intention. They are more abstract than poetry.
W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. and M. C. Beardsley, ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, The Sewanee Review, 54.3 (1946), pp. 468-488 (pp. 469-470).