Research Exercise

After reading “What We See When We Read”, by Peter Mendelsund, I was inspired by the idea that everyone creates a different image of the same novel/character/setting. The images we see when reading are definitely not the same as the ones the author pictured when writing; and because we fill in the gaps with references from our own personal experiences, everyone’s Anna Karenina, for example, will be different, perhaps inspired by someone they’ve met.

“We colonize books  with our familiars; and we exile, re-patriate the characters to lands we are more acquainted with.” 

After discussing this idea with my tutor Ellen, she suggested I would conduct an experiment based on it. It would be a research exercise which would consist of reading one same excerpt of a text to some people, or ask them all to think of one same book, and draw their visual image(s) of it.

I asked some of my friends to think of one book I knew we had all read – “Os Maias”, by Eça de Queirós (this is one of the books I’m including in my author collection). I then asked them to draw the most significant element or moment in the novel. This was meant to show how each person takes something different from the same story, and how everyone remembers the same images in a very personal and customised manner.

The results were somewhat surprising. Even though this is a story about incest, that didn’t seem to be anyone’s most significant aspect of the novel.

Instead, most people felt the ending scene of the story prevailed over all other moments. One person referred to the moment the main character sees his sister (not knowing her as his sister, of course) for the first time; I myself remember being mostly upset with the deaths in the Maia’s family.


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