“Books are objects. On a table, on bookshelves, in store windows, they wait for someone to come and deliver them from their materiality. Georges Poulet’s Phenomenology of Reading. Graham Bippart. Bucknell University. Follow this and additional works at: ll. edu/chr. Poulet, french essayist and critic, comments on the experience of reading as his opening paragraph of his mind-bending interpreation of what it.

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Georges Poulet

Georges Poulet has been identified as a member of pouelt so-called Geneva School of critics, who have assimilated something of the Romantic tradition of Rousseau and the historicism of the nineteenth-century German philosopher, Wilhelm Dilthey. For these critics, literary criticism is itself literature, but it is not the solipsistic criticism of the impressionists.

Many of these critics, taking much from the phenomenological tradition of Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty, argue that consciousness is always consciousness of something. Poulet, in contrast, believes that a thought is also “simply a thought. But it is possible to join one’s consciousness with the author’s as it is created in his works. The book is an object by which two subjects–the consciousness of the author and that of the reader–become one.

The author reveals himself to us in us. In Phenomenology of Reading, Poulet examines a number of other critics in his tradition, and he posits the existence of some ineffable presence–some mental activity–that cannot be captured in the objectivity of the book phennomenology but hovers above it or invades the reader. At the same time, Poulet’s Cartesian dualism leads him to consider the critics’ consciousness in some way free of total identity with the author’s.


The critic is not really writing analyses; he is writing a criticism that is itself literature in an attempt to convey his consciousness of his author’s consciousness.

Phenomenology of Reading Georges Poulet – ppt video online download

His work, in turn, will be more than its own objectivity when it also finds a reader and joins itself to that reader’s consciousness.

The tradition in which Poulet works is in direct opposition to the analytical, objectivist tradition of British and American criticism. Rather than regarding a work of art as a completed object with some autonomy from its author, Poulet considers it an act of the author, part of the process of the author’s consciousness. Here are some of the main tenets of his argument: That all books are as dead objects until someone poylet them.

Books are more than their objective reality: The reader becomes part of the inside of the book; the book becomes part of the inside of the reader. As the subjective experience of the book enlarges, so the objective experience of the book decreases.


Georges Poulet – Wikipedia

The life inside the book gains its reality from the reader’s consciousness. The images, ideas, words lose their materiality; they exist as mental objects.

The process of reading suggests also an I who is thinking the thoughts, not just a passive receiver of them. A book is not only a book.

One must let the individual who rdading it reveal himself to us in us. A displacement of the reader by the work occurs. Author and reader come closer to a common consciousness. This identity of consciousness enables the work to have a kind of immortality.

It is this response which od should aim for, not the objective non-involvement type so often written. One must be careful to not irradicate the subject altogether by abstracting it totally.

If the critic does this, “then criticism is no longer mimesis; it is the reduction of all literary forms to the same level of insignificance” Thus criticism oscillates between two possibilities: