on reading

this is where Alberto Manguel ends up in his article, The Age of Revenge, which i quoted from a few days ago:

I would like to make a suggestion. There is no doubt that more oppressed voices should and must be heard… But unless there is a whole new breed of readers to take those texts upon themselves, to read in them “new visions of how to live,” not much will change. It is on the readers that we must concentrate, not the writers, on the readers who will make use of the text and “make something happen.” Unless this education of the reader occurs, no number of new voices will change anything, because they will echo among a deaf crowd. And if these readers learn to seek out, to interpret, to translate, to put texts into a variety of contexts, to transform the texts through multiple layers of reading – if we, readers, train ourselves to do this – then we won’t be needing any voices to be silenced, because we will be able to make choices. A silenced voice, whether silenced voluntarily or not, never disappears. Its absence becomes enormous, too enormous to ignore. Surely it’s not another absence we want, another vacuum for a hundred or a thousand years, but a period of redress, in which those voices come up and share the audibility that for so long those in power have usurped.

I am also convinced that hope lies with individuals, and that solutions don’t lie in crowds. One of the greatest triumphs of any oppressor is to convert the oppressed to his methods. A reader need not embrace a writer’s methods, or even those of another reader. A text allows in itself more freedom than we usually think possible, which is why governments are never really keen on literacy, and why it is usually writers and seldom deep-sea divers or stockbrokers who are imprisoned, tortured and killed for political reasons.

– Alberto Manguel, The Age of Revenge

i suspect his intention isn’t for those of us who write to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to what we were doing. what’s inferred, but not stated specifically, in the article is that it will take a different kind of writing from those who have access to the medium in order for reading to be changed.

[and, of course, what he doesn’t acknowledge is that the platform of writing isn’t limitless: there are only a limited number of articles that a newspaper can print… only a limited number of books that a publishing company will publish… a limited number of blogs we can read each day. And of course, it feeds into our greater myth of ‘free’ speech…]

so the question keeps bugging me, when does my ‘speaking on behalf of the oppressed’ become, in itself, oppressive…

[The full article can be found in the book ‘Into the Looking-Glass Wood’, which is a collection of essays about reading and writing, writing by Manguel]


  1. I wonder if it’s at the point where you believe you need to speak ‘on behalf’ of the oppressed, rather than sharing your delight / frustration / horror at what the opppressed are already saying? I think you most often do the later rather than the former – and so I keep listening.

    =) B

  2. Cheryl

    it’s what i’d like to do, but it’s such a fine line.


    Hi Cheryl
    Challenged by the Manguel references. Where might one go to read the article in full or to obtain same?
    It “fits” with what I’m trying to write for both church & govt. options.

  4. Cheryl

    hi Bruce

    It took a bit of work, but i found out that the article is part of a book called ‘Into the Looking Glass Wood’, which is a collection of essays about writing and reading by Alberto Manguel

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