On Rereading Books

Rowan Williams meditates on how certain imaginative texts allow us to mature in their company:

Most of us over a certain age will recognise in our individual experience what it is to read a book at eighteen and then return to it twenty years later; as likely as not, we shall find it very different. Aspects of it will strike us as having passed unnoticed the first time; other aspects we may recognise as having unconsciously shaped our response to many other things. We read it perhaps with a sense of never having read it before, and at the same time as being more familiar than we had realised. The earlier reading has made things possible (including this second reading); the person who first read it is not there any longer, and cannot read a second time as if it were the first, but the person reading it the second time is one who has been changed, imperceptibly it may be, by that first reading. In the life of any individual, a book that is reread several times is one that both establishes itself as an intimate and familiar conversational partner, but which at every reading also conceals and reveals different things, opens different doors.

Books or dramas or music that allow us to mature in their company have a very particular role for us; because they are not exhausted by one reading or hearing, they tell us that there is more to be found, that we have a future with them which we cannot predict or control in full. What I am trying to articulate here is that sense of coming into a distinctive landscape that is given us by certain imaginative works; we know that they demand time if we are to ‘inhabit’ them properly. And in the context of the Church, this is what is being claimed about the texts of Scripture above all, but also about those further texts in which Scripture is fleshed out — the words and forms of worship, and that peculiar kind of text which is a Christlike life. These are the concrete form taken by God’s invitation to grow in his company; they are equally the promise of a future. (Why Study the Past?, 93-94)

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Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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