Reading without meaning

EyeLet’s capture the process.

It’s Saturday afternoon. You have nowhere to be, and it’s just you, the couch, a pumpkin latte (why not?), and that one in a million novel that is so good you could die after reading it and it wouldn’t matter because you’d know you had lived.

It was effortless. It was as if your brain had tuned out everything before the words exploded in your mind’s eye, and you don’t even remember turning the pages, the phone ringing, or your sullen dog staring up at you with its head resting in its food dish. These moments are magic and timeless, but they are hard to slip into and maintain. Normal reading is punctuated by these moments, but interspersed with rude interruptions from reality, like when your need to pee infiltrates your dream and forces your dream-self to find a bathroom.

So many things have to be just right for you to get that good reading experience. Block out the “noise” from outside the book, and make consistent instantaneous leaps from words to experience. We’ve all felt the frustration when these things fail. The number of distractions are infinite, and if we’re reading a difficult writing style or there are too many difficult words, the only experience we get is frustration. Although, of course, practice makes perfect.

I have often wondered about the times when I have read, where it didn’t feel like I’d taken anything in. This isn’t to say I was distracted, thinking about other things, just that I cannot account for the turning of five pages or more. I know I read over them, but the train was gliding over the tracks in silence. Was it registering on some deeper level, unseen by my mind’s eye? If asked the right question, would I be able to pull the literary events from wherever they fell in the recesses of my memory? Or did the words go up in smoke before hitting my retina?

I have come to think that the process of latching onto sentences and riding them like a cheap rollercoaster is an independent process within the act of reading. It is a form of reading without semantics.

Upon reflection, I believe there to be two types of reading without semantics; in the light, and in the dark.

This is an example of reading without semantics in the light:


Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono,

donne, ragazzi, vecchi, fanciulle:

Qua la parruca… Presto la barba…
Qua la sanguigna…
Presto il biglietto…
Qua la parruca, presto la barba,
Presto il biglietto, ehi!
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!

This is a brief section of the famous aria Largo Al Factotum from The Barber of Seville. For those of you who don’t speak Italian (but have English as a first language), those words probably seem like gibberish, yet you can still read over them. The syllables are still somehow pleasing, and if you hear it sung, well, you can gain full enjoyment without understanding a single word. And here you can read over it without meaning, yet still feel present in the moment for the entire duration. Here, the syllables might trigger mild associations with your memories, but it will be very limited (after all, you’re probably not trained in this language).

Reading without semantics in the dark is when you feel that you’ve been reading, but your mind’s eye was closed. The syllables failed to activate any associations and thus you failed to experience meaning.

Reading is obviously better with semantics. But what is to made of those times when meaning and time flew over your head? Were we still flexing our reading apparatus, training for our next outing with a killer novel, or were we just wasting our time?

Presto il biglietto, ehi!
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!

4 thoughts on “Reading without meaning

    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      Hi Lynette! Sorry I didn’t reply immediately. I’ve been working on a writing project and it’s eaten all of my time. I certainly wish you a ‘Happy New Year’, too!


    1. Jack Pemment Post author

      I was actually just getting around to posting something. I’ve been very busy with a writing project, so my blog has kind of gone on the back burner. But thanks for reading, it is much appreciated 🙂



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s