June 30, 2012

What Do You See when You Read

In this way we are backwards phrenologists, we readers. Extrapolating physiques from minds.

From Jacket Mechanical’s nice mini-essay on the difficulties of visualizing characters from novels, how our minds fill in the textual lacunae with broad brushstrokes of personality over literal physical features.

“Call me Ishmael.” What happens when you read this line? You are being addressed, but by whom? Chances are you hear the line (in your mind’s ear) before you picture the speaker. I can hear Ishmael’s words more clearly than I can see his face. (Audition requires different neurological processes than vision, or smell. And I would submit that we hear more when we read than we see). Picturing Ishmael requires a strong resolve.

(Via Coudal Partners)