Conceptualizing Trajectories of Readability [Invited Essay]

In an essay on “Phenomenological Aesthetics,” the philosopher Roman Ingarden asserted that “works of art have the right to expect to be properly apprehended by observers who are in communion with them and to have their special value justly treated” (269). What does it mean to “properly apprehend” a novel? How do we know how to read something “justly”? What would it mean to claim that something has become “unreadable”? Can books somehow show us how they want to be read? Can lost forms of intelligibility and appreciation be recovered? How do we know whether the way we are reading a book is the way it asks to be read or is the product of our own, differently structured habitus? In this article, I ask these kinds of questions about novels by Sand, Gautier, and a few others with the help of Ingarden and Bourdieu as well as some recent critics.

Michael Lucey
University of California, Berkeley