I'm still intrigued by a topic I mentioned Wednesday, intensive reading. Michael Johnson wrote about it the other day on his blog, and I'm having trouble getting it out of my head.
Here is a bit of what Michael wrote:
Scholars of reading like David Hall and Rolf Engelsing have confirmed and drawn out something I'd assumed: around 1750 or so, "intensive" reading — in which a reader reads a book or books over and over — gave way to our modern "extensive" way of reading a book, rather quickly, then moving on to the next thing. I know certain 20th century writers - Robert Frost comes to mind - were known for reading the same 20 books over and over. I think many of us do both types of reading.
I don't know what Hall and Engelsing have to say, but I'm guessing that prior to 1750, there must have been significant numbers of readers who concentrated on reading the Bible, and works that were more or less commentaries on the Bible. Even today, it's not uncommon for Christians to read a bit of Bible verse every day, to make reading the Good Book a continuous exercise that never ends.
But isn't this also a description of how James Joyce's readers behave? According to Eric Wagner, RAW's Boswell, Robert Anton Wilson recommended reading Ulysses 40 times. It's taken for granted that anyone reading Ulysses is going to look for help from a reference book, or at least will get some background on the Internet. And Finnegans Wake obviously was written to be studied, as opposed to being quickly read and tossed aside like a paperback thriller. I'm not enough of a Joyce scholar to know if he intended to write a modernist Bible, but that would appear to be what Joyce did. For Joyce scholars, reading and re-reading him and looking for fresh insights is a process that never ends.
Would it be a stretch to call Illuminatus! a postmodernist Bible? It is certainly a mixture of high and low culture, and one gets the sense reading it that Wilson and Shea tried to write about everything they knew, or at least a significant port of it. I have certainly been able to find plenty to notice when I re-read it, and the Illuminatus! reading group found many aspects of the book to talk about. I would not have known, for example, just how Discordian it was until I read Adam Gorightly's articles.