Heavy Versus Light Reading: The Decipherment of Literary and Non-Literary Texts

Heavy Versus Light Reading: The Decipherment of Literary and Non-Literary Texts

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Heavy Versus Light Reading: The Decipherment of Literary and Non-Literary Texts


In attempting to discriminate between the nature of a "literary" text and a "non-literary" text, a metaphor from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being comes to mind. Especially in considering this same novel in contrast with a novel such as Danielle Steele's Vanished, the idea of lightness versus heaviness presents itself, and with it, a new way of approaching the decipherment of any high/low dichotomy of "literariness". When the "literary" text is imagined as "heavy" and the "non-literary" as "light", an interesting illumination is cast upon the scene, and parallels emerge alongside ideas originally presented in the writings of A. Easthope and Wolfgang Iser.

In the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera (in writing a "weighty" novel himself), presents a distinction between the light and the heavy. The lightness of human existence resides in the idea of a life being lived only once - decisions being made only once. The singularity of such an existence seems to render it "unbearably light", or insignificant. An existence which is eternally repeated has, on the contrary, more "weight" to it in its substantive inexhaustibility. There is a seemingly infinite array of different possible choices to be made - multiple paths which could be followed. This "plural" brand of existence seems to carry more significance in its "heaviness".

Easthope, in Literary into Cultural Studies, suggests that a high cultural ("literary") text such as Heart of Darkness (or The Unbearable Lightness of Being) possesses certain characteristics whose antitheses are found in a popular ("non-literary") text such as Tarzan (or a novel like Vanished)....


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...eaning. Repetition of this kind of heavy reading of a light, insubstantial text, is no more than the repetition of a particular existence - the same life and the same death each time. A reader has one choice to make in experiencing the "non-literary" work: to either read it once (to experience the set lifetime once), or to read it multiple times (to become reincarnated into the same body and destiny time after time). This could very well be the reason that a text which is considered to be "literary" is indeed thought of as better or more fulfilling than a "non-literary" text. It is the "literary" text with all of its afore-mentioned characteristics which makes possible the "reincarnation" of the reader - which carries the potential for a reader to enjoy countless different experiences of lightness, no longer unbearable in such lightness, because of their plurality.

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