3.03.2011

Immanent Reading, Exemplary Reading


Exemplary reading and immanent reading: these are different architectures of the reading event, different postures of how one stands in and towards and with the world. The exemplary is the domain of the expert who stands between things, the uninformed, and sanctified knowledge. The expert emerges from the culture of the priest and his church where there is first the word of god, then the priest who grasps it and who, in turn, brings it to the flock. The way to knowledge, to god, is through the expert-priest. The architecture is a hierarchical pyramid that moves towards a singular point while cascading down to the mob. Particularities are subsumed by generalities. And only the master, well heeled in his learned ways, can decipher the vicissitudes of particularity and give them a proper home — this book belongs in this genre, this one doesn’t.


Immanent reading, meanwhile, is rhizomic and four-dimensional. There are multiple ways into a text, multiple ways of making one’s way through it, and the whole thing — text, reader, world — is moving. There is no front door. Nor is there a back door. And the text won’t stay still long enough for the reader to exhaust it once and for all. Pick your point, wherever it may arise, and see what happens. There is no privileged access and an immanent reading is never definitive (even if thoroughly persuasive). This is the jurisdiction of the amateur who is not tethered to a discipline or knowledge community but is free to follow the text wherever it goes.


Immanent reading is radically democratic. It eliminates the need for a learned expert, empowering the individual standing in front of a Jeff Koons to make sense of it. Isn’t this the power, the threat, of bottom-up media? The rise of the web and its network structure undoes the very pyramidal architecture of the expert. Many decry the nonsense spouted by the masses and long for a certified word from above. But, in the network, a reader must decide which reading works best for him. It’s no longer a matter of going to the library and citing some source with the appropriate letters after his name. There is no recourse to the expert to close discussion. All there is is the reading. And then another reading. And then another. It’s readings all the way down.


In any case, the immanent reader does not need the master’s word to reckon his experience. He needs skills, not knowledge. He needs attention and engagement — participation, not expertise. Immanent reading is an open invitation.

3 comments:

Linz said...

Immanent reading reminds me of rock climbing — there's no guarantee I'll be able to scale the wall, that the particular arrangement of cracks and holds will be sufficient to guide me to the top. I can't rely on the way my tall friend or my fat friend goes. And if I do find a way up, it's with the joy of creating something new, not rediscovering something worn.

drwatson said...

Here's a question I have that I think is in the ballpark: how do you stop the rhizomic from becoming reified. It seems to me it's hard to at once acknowledge multiple narratives and at the same time not suggest that your narrative or a particular kind of multiple narratives is, well, basically correct, like damn-near in a Platonic sense.

And I sort of hate when people raise this kind of question because I have so much trouble answering it. When Lyotard said "No more grand narratives," does that now put is into the age of no grand narratives, which becomes that damn snake eating its tail.

I know this isn't exactly on topic. But i'm writing a paper on historical narratives and the problem of narrative and I'd like to hear what you think.

Always appreciate your ability to be at home in ideas.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Linz: Love the image of finding your own way up. And perhaps your own style — flips and such. Only it need not be so fucking scary.

@ drw: The moment the will to the rhizomic becomes prescriptive, it's no longer rhizomic. The right grand narrative can is beautiful, moving, wrenching.

One way to look at is to say: the grand narrative is one narrative possibility, one way of making sense. To rule it out is despotic. To crown it king is to be despotic. To say: this is great but not definitive is to be rhizomic.

It's not the rule that matters but the way of going.

That help?