Hamilton 1


Buffy Hamilton

ELAN 8410

Response Paper: The English Patient

February 4, 2004


    “I wish for all this t...
Hamilton 2


    In my second reaction paper, I pondered the following questions spurred by the

aforementioned quotes:

 ...
Hamilton 3


with the text condition how you “write” or “construct” meaning of those experiences,

values, and beliefs. Th...
Hamilton 4


light on all positions linguistically manifested in the text for each position is set in a fresh

context wit...
Hamilton 5


   On a more text-to-reader level, I cannot help but think of how books “write” me and

construct a “communal...
Hamilton 6


person even though I may not completely realize the changes and the “rewriting” of

myself at that point in t...
Hamilton 7


Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Austin,
       TX: University of T...
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Response paper to english patient by buffy hamilton 2 3-04 elan 8410

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Response paper to english patient by buffy hamilton 2 3-04 elan 8410

  1. 1. Hamilton 1 Buffy Hamilton ELAN 8410 Response Paper: The English Patient February 4, 2004 “I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography-- -to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.” p. 261 “Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.” p. 234
  2. 2. Hamilton 2 In my second reaction paper, I pondered the following questions spurred by the aforementioned quotes: So is this book really a metaphor about identity? Certainly we have many characters reinventing themselves and reshaping themselves. Although they all seem to somewhat try to disguise their former selves and even forget their former selves in terms of their physical appearances and the way they choose to structure or see the world, the identities of the characters seems to be constantly evolving with many layers. In many ways, there is definitely a tension between the public self and the private self for each character. How do we read each other? It seems the “words” that “write” us and that people use to “read us” are not our own. After revisiting these questions after our last class meeting and contemplating my experiences as first-time reader of The English Patient, I began wondering more about how acts of reading contribute to our identity and construct a “communal” text of ourselves. How do acts of reading “write” the “texts” of ourselves and help us “read” the world? How do acts of reading “write” us as actual readers? What powers do words have to construct readers and how they read the world? In what ways do we become “communal histories” and “communal books” through acts of reading over time? When I think of acts of reading as “communal”, I cannot help but think of Bakhtin and his concept of “The living utterance, having taken a meaning and shape at a particular historical moment in a socially specific environment, cannot fail to brush up against thousands of living dialogic threads, woven by socio-ideological consciousness around the given object of an utterance; it cannot fail to become an active participant in social dialogue” (Bakhtin, p. 276). In other words, a reading of a text does not occur in a vacuum, but our transactions with text simultaneously invoke multiple voices and experiences. In a sense, reading is an act of participating in a community because you bring your experiences, values, and beliefs to the text; consequently your transactions
  3. 3. Hamilton 3 with the text condition how you “write” or “construct” meaning of those experiences, values, and beliefs. Those moments of intersection in an act of reading add another layer, subtle though it may be, to your construction of the world and to the “communal” dimension of “self” as well as your transactions with the text. Just as Hana used books and words to cope with a world she could not longer tolerate and to construct a new one in which she could make meaning, so do we use acts of reading allow us to enter a world without walls and to open ourselves to reinvention and reconstruction, a text that is constantly under revision. Whenever I look back upon my first reading of The English Patient, I look do not think of this reading was as an individual act, but rather my reading was a communal act. My past, present, and future experiences as an individual reader and a reader in our ELAN 8410 learning community all influenced my transactions with this novel. I cannot think of reading this novel just as a solitary figure; instead, I think of Spencer’s references to reading as “a sacred ritual;” Sharon’s concept of reading as a “temporal experience;” Steven’s interest in our experiences as “re-readers;” Michelle’s concepts of aesthetic experiences; Melanie’s reading of the first half of the novel as a “hyper linked” sort of experience in which one line of text immediately sent you thinking of something else you had read in the novel or a connection; Lee’s interest in the web of the characters; and Mark’s interest in how this book might disrupt our conventional concepts of a novel and its traditional linear structure. Your words, your social worlds, your connections and questions, and your experiences somehow became incorporated into the “borderlands” of my “self” and my experiences as a reader with this text. Again, this experience as a reader echoes Iser’s assertion that “The continual interaction of perspectives throw new
  4. 4. Hamilton 4 light on all positions linguistically manifested in the text for each position is set in a fresh context with the result that the reader’s attention is drawn to aspects hitherto not apparent. Thus the structure of theme and horizon transforms every perspective segment of the text into a two-way glass, in the sense that each segment appears against the others and is therefore no only itself but also a reflection and an illuminator of those others”(Iser, pp. 97-98). Had I read this text on my own, I am sure that my reading of this text would have completely different and not as rich or meaningful. Our dialogue, our learning experiences as a small group, and what each person brought to the conversation all impacted how I thought about the text and created a sort of “ongoing” revision and “rewriting” of the text for me. In this sense, this was definitely a communal reading experience. My transactions with The English Patient were not just about my own personal reading, but they were also about how my transactions with each of you affected my “dialogue” with the text. Stanley Fish maintains, “…all objects are made and not found, and that they are made by the interpretative strategies we set in motion. The you is a communal you and not an isolated individual” (Fish, p. 331). This reading went beyond the borders of myself. I felt the reading transcended each of us and somehow evolved into larger experiences. For me, these experiences affirm Wolfgang Iser’s belief that “….it is clear that if a literary text represents a reaction to the world, the reaction must be to the world incorporated in the text; the forming of the aesthetic object therefore coincides with the reader’s reactions to positions set up and transformed by the structure of theme and horizon” (Iser, p. 98). Reading this novel not only was an act of constructing a “communal text,” but these acts of reading involved composing a communal history of my experiences with the text.
  5. 5. Hamilton 5 On a more text-to-reader level, I cannot help but think of how books “write” me and construct a “communal text” of identity (communal book as a metaphor for identity) for me. For Hana, words definitely conveyed a “power” to feed her and nurture her, just as Katharine “…had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape” (238). From my first faint outline of memory as a small child, words, spoken and written, have shaped my world and sense of purpose in the world. What stories and songs did I read and hear repeatedly that impacted my worldview? When I was ten, Little Women inspired me to declare that “being an author” was my mission in life. My reputation for devouring books was known to family, friends, and teachers. A Christmas “wish list” was never without a requisite list of books that I hoped would line my bookshelves. If I was not found with my nose in a book, then you would find me composing my own stories either by hand or later, with a typewriter that definitely made me feel like a budding Louisa May Alcott! After reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time, I tried to go to Narnia by hopping in my great-grandmother’s chiffarobe. Over twenty years later, I can still feel the sense of disappointment that the walls did not magically open a door to Narnia; even now, I still feel a faint flutter of the he urgent desire to literally go someplace a book had taken me earlier. Words and books are inextricably intertwined with my sense of self. In a recent television interview, renowned actor, poet, and painter Viggo Mortensen commented that unlike many actors, he did not try to rid himself of a character; for him, remnants of his experiences in a moviemaking experience and of that character somehow became imbued and fused into his own psyche. This experience for Mortensen is much like my experiences as a reader: I enter a book as one person, but I exit it a different
  6. 6. Hamilton 6 person even though I may not completely realize the changes and the “rewriting” of myself at that point in time. When I begin to read a book, I often wonder what journey lies ahead for me as a reader; this anticipation is usually one of curiosity, much like Hana: “She entered the story knowing she would emerge from a feeling she had been immersed in the lives of others, in plots that stretched back twenty years, her body full of sentences and moments, as if awaking from sleep with a heaviness caused by unremembered dreams” (12). I reflect with awe how books and reading have populated my identity. The map of self is altered and the old labels and markings no longer apply. Is it through reading acts of reading that we can fulfill the English Patient’s desire to “walk upon an earth with no maps”, to create a world with dynamic boundaries and meaningful place-names of self that are dynamic? Acts of reading are acts of transformation whether we realize it or not. These transformations are not isolated, and they occur in a context of a particular reading experience: “As text and reader thus merge into a single situation, the division between subject and object no longer applies, and it follows that meaning is no longer an object to be defined, but is an effect to be experienced” (Iser, pp. 9-10). Have you ever found yourself in a book feeling as though you were someplace real, as though you had crossed into some imaginary yet incredibly real world, wondering what parts were fiction and what parts were reality or truth? How is it that we as readers breathe life into those words on the page? At this point, I believe that if we are to think of reading as an experience that adds “communal” layers to ourselves, we incorporate those experiences into rich, dynamic transactions with texts. Consequently, acts of reading become places of meaning making and construction of worlds, “texts,” and living histories.
  7. 7. Hamilton 7 Bakhtin, M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination: Four essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Fish, S. (1980). Is there a text in this class: The authority of interpretive communities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Iser, W. (1978). The act of reading: A theory of aesthetic response. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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