from Art and Reality by Joyce Cary (1958; 1961)

What happens in reading?

The reader is receptive only in a special sense. What a reader has in front of him is simply a collection of marks on paper, inert and meaningless in themselves. They are incapable on their own account of giving him anything. Reading is a creative art…. The meaning received is created by the imagination from the symbols, and that imagination must first be educated . . . in the use and meaning of a symbolic system….

Without education, it is not possible for a man even to appreciate any art. For education does not give only knowledge but taste; it qualifies the feelings as well as the judgment. It creates the sensibility, which is a compound of feeling and judgment.

We judge the value of the work finally by its revelation of a moral real. The power and quality of the artist’s craft is in the force and authority of his revelation. His subconscious is creating or reconstructing from the symbols before him the whole emotional content of the work; his reflective judgment is all the time recording flaws of expression, failures of emphasis, loose joints and weak transitions . . . some part . . . ready to notice an error of fact, even when the error does not destroy the continuity of the emotional experience.

The mind, in short, by education, has acquired a complex formal character which has all the spontaneity of primitive emotional make-up. The feelings are charged with ideas and the ideas with feeling, and reflection can proceed without conscious thought.


  1. Isn’t that delightful? The words have not changed. The reader has changed. Thank you for this comment. AND we “see” more (or less) the next time around. I’ll post more on this.

  2. I’ve noticed that I can read the same thing several years apart and it will mean something very different to me each time.

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